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From the Fire

Chapter Text

Sigrid could not put her finger on precisely what will drew her towards the lake's edge that night, perhaps it was the contrast to the red hot carnage of Smaug's fire, or maybe she was still desperately clinging to any part of the home she had lost. Regardless, that was where she was to be found the night after the burning of Laketown; standing silhouetted in the moonlight in water up to her knees, her skirts drenched as long withheld sobs racked her body.

"Sigrid?" She turned at the timid voice of her sister, Tilda, and hurriedly wiped away the tears lest they bring further alarm to the young girl. Tilda had witnesses more violence and destruction in the past few days than one of her young years ought to; she needed to see strength in her older sister not fragility.

Sigrid wrangled her voice into something resembling its normal tone; purposeful and determined. "Yes Tilda love, what is it?"

"Da, needs your help, he says we don't have enough healers to tend to the wounded." The younger girls face was drawn, her features gaunt as she spoke.

Sigrid steeled herself before nodding and gathering up her wet skirts and stepping from the lakes waters, missing instantly their cool, soothing touch on the burns to her own legs. "I'd best get back to work them." She said in a jarringly cheerful voice. It wasn't lost on her that her sister winced at this false show of optimism and Sigrid cursed herself for it but resolutely continued, drawing the younger girl to her side in a tight squeeze as the made their way back to the makeshift encampment amongst the ruins of their people.

The wounded had been placed together the western side of the camp to reduce the risk of spreading infection and to allow for the limited number of amateur healers to attend to many at once. Sigrid herself could claim no competence in healing beyond that of nursing Tilda and Bain's many childhood injuries and maladies, however those with practised knowledge has demonstrated the correct ministrations for burns and Sigrid realized grimly that she would soon be able to count herself an expert.

When they had come near enough to western side of the camp that the cries and groans of agony reached their ears Sigrid sent Tilda to assist the cooks in the preparation of food before gathering her loose hair into a bun and determinedly stepping forward into whirl of activity.

That night she soothed many fevered brows, pressed herbs into angry crimson limbs, and handed out small pieces of wooden debris for the dying to bite down on when their pain pierced the night air.

Allowing herself a moment to pause and wipe her own brow, she watched as the baker she has known since she was a small child left this world with a hacking gasp, blood at the corner of his mouth and was eternally thankful that his family had not survived the fires to see their beloved's last painful moments.

"Sigrid, fetch some more cloth!" One of the healers called out from a bedside and Sigrid gratefully accepted the opportunity to step outside the overheated tent. She knew it was selfish to want to be anywhere else when others were suffering so much more than she, whose family had escaped the fires unharmed, but she needed a moment to compose herself, a moment to gather courage before she wrestled against death's greed once more.

The supplies that the survivors had gathered were being placed under guard in another tent across the camp and so that was where she set off for, moving past the unfocused gazes of the remaining villagers as they watched the flickering flames of the camp fires, touching a reassuring hand to the occasional shoulder as she did. There was so much sorrow here and yet they still held each other, sharing what warmth they had. Their kindness endured and Sigrid drank it in to keep as her own fortification.

When she finally came upon the tent the guards bowed their head and let her pass through. For a moment their formality struck her as odd, but then she remembered that her Da had been the one to shoot down the dragon. Nodding back she noted that not two days before these guards might have been employed to spying upon Da, but now they regarded Bard with reverence and respect. How strange it was that such trivial wrongs were righted by such catastrophic tragedies.

She lifted the flap of the tent, expecting to find it empty when to her shock she was confronted with the skulking figure of Alfred, the former master's advisor. Alfred froze upon her entry, one hand stuffing rations into his pockets and the other cramming the salvaged food stores into a rucksack.

"What are you doing?" She inquired sternly although she knew precisely the malice of his intentions.

Alfred turned to her, an oily smile plastered in his face as he tried to hide the rucksack from her line of sight "I was just gathering supplies for the sick." He said. "Just working for the people, we all 'ave to pull our weight don't we?"

She looked past him to see the unclipped tent flap at the back through which he had clearly entered and folded her arms scowling. This man did not scare her, rather she looked upon him with sympathy as another desperate soul scavenging for the remains of his old life. However, this did not mean that she would allow him to steal from others in the process.

"I will give you one chance to put those things back and I won't tell anyone what you tried to do." Sigrid stepping forward to block his escape out through the loose tent flap.

The oily smile slipped from his face and was replaced with a leering sneer. "And what is the Bargeman's daughter goin' to do 'bout it eh? You going to stop me are you missy? I'd like ta see you try."

"One chance or I call for the guards." Sigrid said, her voice low but no less malevolent. She had little patience for anyone who stood between her and aid for those suffering. She could feel the heat of temper rising inside her.

Alfred sneered and tried to push past her, a response he would go on to regret for the rest of his days. Since she had been a young girl her Da had taught her to defend herself, to bring a man to his knees with a well-aimed blow and that was what she did to Alfred, a little harder that the situation warranted but she was exhausted and not willing to abide this thief.

She would have stopped there had Alfred not reached up from the ground to grab her, pulling her down so that the breath was knocked out she fell hard on her front. Gasping she was about to draw breath to call for the guards when cold fingers closed over her mouth and she felt his hot breath at her ear.

"Don't you dare girly." His voice sent a chill up her spine and she struggled to free herself from his tight hands but he held her fast. "Man's got ta make a living after all, imagine the price I could get for 'em? You could join me, take a cut for yourself, I could use a girl like you." She squirmed as a cold hand coarsely caressed her face. Fighting the need to be sick she saw her opportunity and pounced, elbowing him hand in the side with her now free arm and biting down hard upon the hand at her mouth.

Alfred cried out in pain, doubled over in the floor and this time she didn't hold back her rage, the blood roared through her ears as she kicked him hard in the side sending him crawling on all four but she kicked him again.

"How dare you!" She screamed, her voice nearly breaking with the potency of its hatred; hatred for Alfred but also for the Dragon, for those who had brought such suffering in her family, hatred for the years of poverty, and hatred at the world for bringing such pain upon them all. "There are people who have lost everything and yet you would take what little they have. Have you no humanity? There are people dying and still others who would rather be dead in the same camp as you but you don't care, you would bring more suffering on them. What is wrong with you? Why do you hate us so much? What have we done to deserve this?" Sigrid's voice broke, her throat raw from smoke and screaming, her rage giving ways to despair and horror as she looked upon the bleeding and shaking man at her feet. Had she really done that to him? Did this make her like the Orcs that had attacked her house; violent and bloodthirsty?

She stood there horrified until she became aware of rustling behind her, turning she saw the shocked faces of the guards and a few other curious faces who had no doubt been drawn by her yelling. They looked at her and she thought there was a hint of horror in their; could they see the monster she felt to be lurking within?

She didn't want to be here anymore, she couldn't look at them or Alfred still sobbing upon the ground. Grabbing a pile of torn cloths she ran between the parted crowd and back towards the healing tent, ignoring the calls of 'Sigrid!' that chased after her.

They wouldn't call for her father; he would be too busy searching the ruins for survivors. They wouldn't bother her siblings; they were too young. Hopefully they would put it down to retaliation and stress; they wouldn't have the capacity to care for such trivial things when there was so much suffering to go around.

Back at the healing tent although she loathed admitting it, the outburst afforded her a clarity that enhanced her ministrations and concentration and she worked to silence the voice of guilt in her mind. She worked into the early morning when many of the sufferers had fallen into an exhausted sleep, dreading the moment she would be turned away to get her own rest. She put it off for a while, assuring the kindly healer that she was not tired and that the healer herself ought to seek rest. Soon however those who had already rested began to return and she was forced to retreat from the tent and into the tortured solitude of her own thoughts.

She wondered aimlessly through the tents lit by the soft blue light of the morning sun, past the dead embers of the fires and the sleeping bodies of those around it until she found herself at the entrance of their own tent. Peering in she saw the huddled bodies of Tilda and Bain sharing a thick blanket as they slept, Bain softly snoring and Tilda resting her head peacefully upon his outstretched arm. Her heart swelled with love and relief to see the safe and at peace but she could not bring herself to disturb such an image and left as silently as she had entered.

She hadn't thought she would see her family again when Smaug was attacking, she had watched the lone figure of her father at the windlance surrounded by the fiery inferno and had been helpless to stop Bain leaping from their boat. In that moment a small but no less vocal part of her had accepted that they would die, and even as they searched amongst the survivors the faint hope within her had withered, just as it had all those years ago when she lost her mother.

She came again to the shores of the lake and watched the smoking ruins of her home in the distance. She didn't cry, she couldn't even she had wanted to, there were simply no more tears in her, no more rage, just a great sadness and a lurking fear.

Sigrid had no intention of sleeping, she would wait until her father returned and then she would go back to the healing tent and do her best to drown out the guilt. Settling herself upon a cold and uncomfortable rock overlooking the lake she waited, looking past the smoke and to the lonely mountain in the distance.

She almost didn't hear the trudge of heavy boots towards her and started, jumping to her feet in alarm and spinning around to see Fili, the Lion-haired Dwarf as Tilda called him, making his way warily towards her. The trepidation in his blue eyes was like a physical blow for surly he had either heard or seen the violence that dwelt within her.

She drew herself up, determined not to appear weakened in front of the warrior who had defended her family from the Orcs.

He held out a blanket, his eyes peering up at her as though anticipating an attack. When she made no move to reach for it he stepped forward. "For the cold, My Lady." his tone was cautious, as if she might explode at any second.

A small ember of the anger she had felt earlier flared. "I'm not going to attack you and I'm not some poor fragile girl to be coddled, you should give it to someone who truly needs it." She said folding her arm, still not taking the blanket.

His proffered arm fell limp at his side. "I thought that it might an apology, the first peace offering between our people and I thought you might like to yell at someone else who truly deserves it." At her quizzical look he clarified. "As one of the dwarfs responsible for bringing the dragon fire upon your home."

Sigrid was taken aback. "Why would you think I would want to do that?" She asked quietly.

"You said as much when you were yelling back at the tent." He muttered lowering his gaze as he awaited his berating. The sight of his willingness to accept full responsibility for his kin mollified her anger, his own selflessness making her feel even more ashamed.

"I didn't see you back there." She said, avoiding his eyes.

He huffed and the hairs of his braided golden moustache lifting with its force. "I'm not that short."

Sigrid chuckled in spite of herself and the sound felt foreign but welcome. Fili smiled hesitantly back and seemed to relax, somewhat assured that he was no longer in danger of a verbal attack and Sigrid accepted the proffered blanket from him with thanks.

Sigrid was about to turn back to the lake when he spoke again. "You are allowed to be angry Lass, at us Dwarfs, at the man that attacked you, Malah, after all that has happened you could rightly be angry at the whole world for all the wrongs it has done you."

She sighed, feeling suddenly deflated. "Anger is all very well Master Dwarf, but harming others because if it... i'm just as bad as Alfred or the Orcs."

"True, but your regret and responding actions speak volumes in contest to such a damnation. And it's just Fili. I'm master to nobody and nothing." He shrugged.

"Are you not to be master to a mountain, now the dragon's dead?" She asked brushing aside his consolations.

"Prince actually." He muttered reluctantly.

"Should I be curtseying?"

"Please don't." He said quickly. "And you shouldn't be so quick to tease, from what I hear your father is looked upon as the new leader of your people, making you a proper Lady."

Sigrid looked back over at the smoking remains of her home and sighed; it would be hard to be a Lady of a people with no home. Turning back to Fili and saw the same exhaustion in his face that she was so stubbornly resisting in the hollowness under his cobalt eyes and the invisible weight upon his shoulders. They had both tried to protect their families and they had both nearly lost their families.

"May I at least offer the Prince a seat?" She asked.

"Only if the Lady wants the company." He replied.

Her brow furrowed. "I offered it did I not?"

He snorted as they settled themselves on the rock. "You may need to practice your diplomacy if you intend on accepting the role of Lady of your people."

She raised her eyebrows. "Etiquette from a Dwarf, I truly must be a monster."

"You are no monster My Lady." He said quietly. "You are strong, not the kind of strong that can wield a sword -although I don't doubt you would- but the strength of one who has endured and fought back. I saw it in my Uncle." His voice faltering as he looked towards the distant mountain and Sigrid realized with another pang of guilt that he did not yet know if his kin had survived the dragon fire.

She looked at him, his usually resolute face was stricken with the same terror she had seen as his brother lay dying on their kitchen table.

No words could sooth such pain and with little comfort to offer when surrounded by the deadly consequences of Dragon fire, Sigrid patted his leg reassuringly. It wasn't much, but it was all he needed to hope that everything they had been fighting for had been worth it.

He grasped her hand and they stayed like that for some time, taking comfort in each other's presence and their shared pain, watching as the light that reflect on the murky water changed with the dawning sun, and both dreaming of a future in which a Prince of Erebor and a Lady of Esgaroth might meet again in merrier circumstances.

 

Chapter Text

Fíli used to cherish the serene solitude of the dawn, it had been a time to feel at one with the rhythms and vibrations of the earth, to soak in the peace that seemed to radiate across the land while its evils slumbered out of sight. But for the past few dawns his head had been too full of fear and worry to find comfort in the early morning sounds. That was, until he spent the dawn with her. They had seldom spoke although at one point as the sun began to creep over the hills she had broken the silence to wonder aloud why a Dwarf, who preferred to dwell beneath the mountains, found such peace in the light of a sunrise. Fíli had replied that there was more to the dawn than the rising sun and when she hadn’t responded he looked over to see that her eyes were closed and a soft crinkle had formed between her eyebrows as she listened attentively for the softly sonorous melodies that used soothed his soul. He had closed his eyes to and slowly, through the rhythmic sound of their mingled breathing he found his way back to the earth, allowing his mind to not only acknowledge his torments but also to know them intimately for only then might they be vanquished.

In his heart he knew that once he had been woken, Smaug would have put up a fight which meant that he had either been successfully driven from the mountain or, that the dragon had exacted all possible suffering upon their kin before setting off to slaughter their human enablers in Laketown. Although the desperate need to know the fate of their kin wove knots within Fíli’s stomach, there was a selfish part of him that wanted to stay with the people of Laketown, to remain ignorant to whatever future waited for them in the halls of Erebor.

However there was another lurking terror that preyed upon any hope he held for the survival of the rest of the company. Fíli desperately wanted to believe that when Thorin had told a wounded Kíli to remain behind in Laketown that it had come from a place a concern for his nephew’s safety, but there had been a distance in his Uncle's eyes, a malevolently lurking fixation upon the mountain. Fíli watched helplessly as devastation overwhelmed his younger brother's pallid face and he saw the fight leave Kíli's body as he slumped, utterly defeated upon the docks as the rest of the company prepared to depart. Fíli had tried to appeal to Thorin’s loyalty and when that didn't work he shamelessly begged him to reconsider because no matter what it took they were supposed to reclaim their home together, as a family. But Thorin wouldn't be swayed and as far as Fíli was concerned that sealed his fate; he knew where he belonged and he couldn’t leave his brother behind no matter the cost. But Thorin couldn't have known the effect his words would have on Kíli, he couldn't have guessed that his rejection would crumble Kíli's resistance to the blade's poison.

Fíli had shuddered at the memory of watching his brother begin to slip away beyond his reach and so he vowed to never voice his fears; he would endure their trapped torment for an eternity if it meant the light would never again leave his brother's eyes.

 

Later, when the sun had finished its dawning Fíli and the remainder of the company set off for Erebor, Óin having determined that Kíli was fit to travel and Kíli himself stubbornly refusing to wait a moment longer to make the journey.
They had dragged a boat from the rocky shore and it bobbed ready in the water. Fíli stepped one foot in, pausing for the smallest moment before his other foot left the rocky shore, reluctant to relinquish its solid stability. The sensation reminded him of Sigrid's warm grip on his hand earlier that morning; an anchor as the long smothered fears had ravaged his soul with their uncertainty. He turned back to the shore and found himself searching for her grey eyes, selfishly craving the determination he had seen in her tired parting smile as she squeezed his hand one last time before running towards the figure of Bard in the distance.
But Sigrid wasn't there and so Fíli squeezed his own hands as he stepped into the boat and they began to row towards the Mountain and whatever lay ahead.

As they rowed Fíli channelled his considerable strength into ensuring that minimal strain would be placed on Kíli’s still healing muscles. His focus so intense that he did not notice the passing of time, his mind's eye so fixated that he did not notice the fragmented debris of Laketown floating by until Bofur held up his hand signalling a stop as he peered down at something in the water at the boat’s bow. Fíli lent around Bofur’s pointed hat to get a good look but when he saw what it was he wished he hadn't.

A man’s body floated in-front of the boat, slumped over the remains of a wooden dock and blocking their passage. The dwarves didn't say anything but all paused and lowered their oars, Bofur removing his hat and placing it across his own chest as a sign of respect. It was a mark of how their time in Laketown had changed them that they could not simply move on past the man.

"What do you think we ought to do with him lads?" Bofur asked quietly. "Should we leave him here?"

Fíli shook his head emphatically. "If we leave him like this the birds will have at him."

"We could give him a hand to find his way back to his people." Óin suggested, having gathered the gist of the discussion from their sombre consideration of the man.

"We can't let him wash up on the shore like that; surely his kin have suffered more than enough from his loss." Fíli said softly, remembering the anguish in Sigrid's grey eyes as she silently grieved for her people.

"We could just let him go to the lake, if we just roll him off the planks?" Bofur suggested half-heartedly.

Kíli, who felt things too deeply and compassionately for a dwarf groaned in dissent, his anguished eyes never leaving the man’s own glassy ones.

Fíli couldn’t stand to leave the man so exposed, even in death, so he shrugged off the coat given to him by Bard’s family and, gingerly stepping around Bofur and Óin he covered the man as best he could. Looking about in the water Fíli gathering a floating stick and attached the scrap of material that Kíli tore from his undershirt before placing the crude flag upright, marking the man's resting place so that he might be found and brought home to his people. They gently pushed him towards the now distant shore from which they had come and then continued stoically on their own homeward journey.

It wasn't long before the silent group stood before the fabled entrance of Erebor, every bit as magnificent and imposing as the legends and tales Fíli had grown up with. However there was no sign of life within and Fíli squeezed his own hands once more before stepping determinedly forward, with Kíli at his side, into the mountain.


*****

When they released each other from their tight embrace Sigrid had appraised her Da's drawn and haggard face before steering him directly towards the food station. She waved off his feeble protests with the patient air of one well practiced in managing a stubborn child and guided Bard to a spot besides a freshly lit fire, placing a meagre but warm bowl of oatmeal in his cold wind-worn hands.

A small smile turned up the corners of Bard's grim mouth as he regarded the bowl and then into the face of his eldest daughter; Sigrid, always tending to others before herself. How strange it is that he had never felt more at home than he did right now.

Bard watched Sigrid with a mixture of pride and sadness; spirit more woman than girl as she continued to move in a whirlwind around him, seeing to it that those in charge of cooking for the survivors found time to eat for themselves.

Bard gently pulled Sigrid down next to him, insisting in the same patient and practiced manner that she had used on him earlier that she should eat something herself. With concern he noted the redness of her eyes "Sigrid, have you been crying?" He asked her gently as she began to eat.

"Wha- no Da, it's just the smoke and ash. I'm fine." She brushed his concerns off airily but they both knew it was a lie. But Bard also knew that his beautifully stubborn daughter would let her pain show only when she was alone, an inherited trait and a lonely path for one so young and he lamented that if her were a better father he could have kept her from such pain.

Sigrid had always been able to read her Da and she watched him carefully as thoughts chased each other across his face. She had decided not to tell Bard about the incident with Alfred, he didn't need another worry and she wanted to forget about it.

"Is there any way I can help you Da?" she asked.

Bard withdrew from deep reverie and shook his head with a sigh. "Not unless you know where we can find resources to build permanent shelter."

Sigrid considered for a moment. "I take it that is nothing salvageable from home."

Bard shook his head sadly. "Dragon fire has no mercy. But if, by some miracle, the dwarves survived the dragon fire we do have claim to some of that gold." He but his lip doubtfully.

"But some of their company survived. Remember, they stayed and then helped Bain, Tilda, and I to escape. And," she realized, her tone cautiously hopeful. "Fíli, and I suppose his brother Kíli, is a Princes of Erebor, surely they’ll be able to help.

Bard seemed to consider her words but a small frown pulled at his mouth and Sigrid could see that he doubted the dwarves and their intentions with the gold.

"They care more than we give them credit for." she said softly remembering Fíli’s words and the comfort he had brought her.

They both fell back into silence, Sigrid chewed thoughtfully as she thought about the mountain, about the tales her Da had told her of the treasures that the dwarves had found buried there, about the day Smaug had come, the burning of Dale... She nearly chocked as she tried to swallow her mouthful in her haste to speak, an idea forming in her mind.

"We might find shelter in Dale." She suggested when she had swallowed. "Think about it Da, we could find shelter and seek our share of the gold from the Dwarves at the same time."

Bard raised an eyebrow, chewing his own mouthful much slower than Sigrid had. He hadn’t thought about Dale, nobody ever did unless it was to warn children about the dangers of dragons and gold. Dale was a dead city, but then again, they were a half-dead people without a city.

"That is a very valid idea Sigrid. We are not so many and surely even if there is limited roofed there will be enough rubble there to construct something decent enough for the winter." He smiled widely for the first time since the fires. "My daughter a political protégé." He said proudly, giving her shoulder an affectionate squeeze and thinking quietly to himself that maybe leading their people might be manageable with his family by his side.

 

Soon Sigrid returned to the healing tent and set to work again. Although it seemed as if most of their patients were past the worst of their suffering, there was still much pain to be had and endurance was scarce in such a place. Sigrid followed the head healer's directions and when a few more young girls entered the tent to volunteer their services Sigrid was the one to teach them how to best tend to burns and for the first time she felt proud a glimmer of pride as they worked; as if they were beginning to constructing a future.

By mid-morning Sigrid was utterly exhausted. Her eyesight was beginning to blur and her movements were lethargic, at least they were until she saw him. He was lying on one of the furthest stretchers and was accompanied by a solemn looking man who surveyed his every twitch like a bird of prey. She hadn't realize who he was until she had gone to turn him to check his wounds and he had flinched. She wouldn't have been concerned if the man had flinched at her touch but Alfred cowered as soon as he saw her face and Sigrid froze, suddenly alert and very much awake.
Somewhere in the soft morning light by the lake she had felt her guilt ebb away, not entirely but enough that Fíli's words sunk in; she had had every right to retaliate in her own defence and Alfred had brought his suffering upon himself.

She closed her eyes for a moment and squeezed her hands as she whispered his words like prayer; 'you are brave', before opening her them again and moving with determination to inspect Alfred's injuries. She knew what colours to watch for and although there was nothing medically alarming about the bruises, it was distressing to think that she had been the one to do such damage. Alfred didn't move while she worked, avoiding her eye and flinching whenever her hand came anywhere close to his face.

"Why did you do it?" She asked in an undertone so his guard wouldn't hear.

He didn't meet her eyes and his response was muttered, his voice sounding hollow as he spoke. "The Master was dead, I 'ad nothin; nobody cared if I was alive. I 'oped people might want me if I could give em what they needed."

Sigrid nodded slowly, putting his shirt back to rights. She looked down at the ruins of a man before her with pity and made her choice. She turned to his guard and politely asked him to find out where Alfred was to be imprisoned so that they could use the space and when he had left she hurriedly turned back to Alfred.

"I will give you one more chance Alfred, go far from here and make a new life, I don't care what it is you do but if you ever come back I won't save you from what others might do."

He nodded emphatically and, looking around to make sure nobody was watching Sigrid tugged free the tent flap and as covertly as she could, she rolled a shocked Alfred out of the tent and onto the cold ground outside, never to be seen by the survivors of Laketown again.

 

Dusting off her hands and suddenly overcome with the weariness she had put off for so long Sigrid stumbled from the healing tent with a mumbled apology to the head healer who waved her off with words Sigrid didn't quite catch. If they hadn't known her better others might have thought that she had found a casket of wine for the way she tripped over her own feet.

She wanted to find Fíli, to thank him for keeping her company and a small, vaguely delirious part of her wanted to tell him off for not convincing her to sleep. But when she reaches the space where their tent had been she found the ground empty, now seriously considering the possibility that she was completely delirious she looked around confused.

"They left this morning." Sigrid turned to see Tilda gazing mournful across the lake. "They took one of the boats and headed towards the Lonely Mountain before I could say goodbye, they didn't even tell anyone they were going." Tilda's lip quivered.

Sigrid pulled her into her arms as they gazed over the lake together. She knew they had to leave, their home was waiting for them to return, but still she felt a deep pang of regret that she hadn't been able to thank them for protecting them from the Orcs and the dragon fire. She especially wanted to thank the Fíli, the Lion-haired dwarf with the deep blue eyes and the soul weighed by many of the same troubles as her own.

She sighed and Tilda looked up at her, the younger girl's forehead creasing slightly as she appraised her sister. "You need to go to bed Sigrid." She said matter-of-factly.

Sigrid raised her eyebrow. "I thought that I was the older sister here?"

"Yes you are," Tilda's wide eyes glinted mischievously "and those bags under your eyes make you look about 50 years older."

Sigrid grabbed the young girl around the waste and ruffled her hair, Tilda's peels if laughter echoing around the survivors camp. And although they didn't say anything, the survivors took it as a sign, a sign that their future might not be so bleak after all.

Chapter Text

He never imagined that the first thing they would do after reclaiming Erebor would be to barricade it up again, and yet here he was; straining to lift broad stones across the entrance on Thorin's orders.

Thorin, who stalked the deserted halls muttering under his breath, Thorin, who had grown distant and reclusive since re-entering the mountain, Thorin, who had succumbed to Durin’s downfall, to dragon sickness.

Fíli had seen it when he chased the golden light into the mountain and found his uncle wondering amongst the treasure; the conviction and passion that had lit his eyes for so long was gone, replaced with a hollow possessiveness. Fíli had felt it in the air; the undefinable heaviness that seemed to caress all that glittered, it cloaked his uncle in a veil of disease and Fíli felt his heart break apart at the sight.

Yet still he lifted each stone into place because maybe, just maybe, if Thorin felt the gold was truly safe his uncle would come back to them. But this wasn’t hope. This was the avoidance of agonising despair and so with each stone placed between the dwarves and the world beyond the lie crystalized.

But it was Kíli who couldn't lie to himself like the others did. His heart too recklessly fierce Kíli still believed that his uncle could be reasoned with, and so when Thorin returned to inspect the refortifications Kíli dropped the cart he bore to step forward and plead his case. But Thorin’s mind would not be swayed and Kíli had stormed away, pushing past the others and out of the mountain into the cold night.

   “Kíli!” Fíli’s anguished voice had called out but it was drowned by Thorin’s own booming voice.            

   “Go then! Crawl back to the humans that you would defend before your own kin!” The sound resounded around the cavernous halls but still Kíli did not turn and the remaining dwarves looked at each other in sorrow, a silent tear trailing down Ori’s cheek.

Fíli did not know what to do. The choice had been easy enough when it had been between his brother and the mountain, but to split his loyalties between his brother and his uncle... that was unfathomable.

As if sensing his waving heart Thorin rounded on Fíli. “Your brother has betrayed us. If he will not protect the birthright of our people then he is of no use to Erebor and he is of no value to me.” Thorin made to turn away and Fíli threw caution to the wind, feeling his hope bleed out as he did.

   “Uncle,” he said, his voice painstakingly steady. “If you banish him we are one less Dwarf to protect what we have come so far to reclaim, let me go to him and make him see sense; his confusion will surly pass as his health improves.” He didn’t waste effort on trying to evoke Thorin’s compassion but was surprised when, for the briefest moment, he thought he saw something of his uncle stir behind the hardened eyes. Fíli felt his foolish heart spark in his chest and he clenched his fists once more.

   Thorin appraised his nephew sternly before clapping a broad hand across his back. “You honour me my sister-son and one day you will honour Erebor as King. Go to him and remind him why we have come so far.”

Fíli bit back his despair and nodded, hurrying out into the dark after his brother.

 

 

Kíli had not gone a long way, for all his anger he could not endure to be far from his kin. Fíli found him by a crumbling deposit of fallen boulders, angrily picking up smaller stones and hurling them as far from the mountain as he could, crying out with the exertion and built up frustration.

   “Kí.” Fíli laid a soothing hand on his shoulder.

   “How could he do this Fí? Thorin spoke for so long of the dragon sickness; he hated it for what it did to Thrór. And Thranduil; Thorin was prepared to sacrifice this quest rather than forgive him for turning his back on Erebor, but now Thorin would do the same to the people of Dale. It just…it makes no sense!” Kíli turned to Fíli, his eyes pleading for his older brother to put his world to rights. It remained Fíli of when Kíli had been younger and they had lived with their mother in the Blue Mountains amongst many other Dwarves. Kíli had been ridiculed for his un-dwarfish features and it had always been his big brother who he ran to first, and Fíli had stemmed his little brother’s tears before they plotted and executed their revenge. But Fíli was powerless to fix this hurt.

   "Kíli, Thorin is not in his right mind, he doesn't know what he says." Fíli tried.

   Kíli scoffed bitterly. "He knows what he says."

   "What makes you believe this?"

   Kíli fingered the rock in his hand. "Because it's true, all of what Thorin says. He was forced to barter the gold of his people to buy our freedom. Nobody should be forced to buy their freedom." He threw the rock. "But Thorin would have kept his promise out of compassion; because he knew in his heart what it was like to lose his home and watch his people be slaughtered."

   "He needs us Kí." Fíli whispered. "He needs us not to lose faith in him. We cannot push him further into this sickness. Your words to him were foolhardy." 

   Kíli turned to him, a look of shock on his moonlit face. "Brother, how can you say that when you saw how the survivors of Laketown suffer?"

   "I said foolhardy but I didn't say untrue." Fíli said bitterly, picking up his own stone and throwing it out into the night. "I don't know what to do either Kí, I feel as if my heart is at war with itself; one part wants to damn Thorin and give them the blasted gold because whatever the punishment he might dispense the people of Laketown don’t deserve to suffer anymore at our hand. But it’s not in me to stand against Thorin on such a matter, he raised us and I just can’t betray that."

 

The brothers stayed silent for a while as they threw their stones until a sudden irrational and cheeky grin stole over Kíli's face as he turned to his brother.

   "Speaking of your heart dearest older brother, is there anything else troubling it, or perhaps anyone?" Kíli nudged him playfully.

   "Brave words from a dwarf who asked an elf that he had just met if she loved him while he had his head on a pile of walnuts." Fíli shoved back harder, somewhat confused by the flush in his cheeks and grateful for the night shadows.

   "I'll have you know that my delirious poetry was devastatingly effective."

   "What!" Fíli spluttered. "But she's an elf!"

   "And definitely female although, I haven't checked properly, yet." Kíli said slyly

Fíli nearly chocked.

   “What pretty words did you use to charm the lovely lass I saw you sitting by the lake with?"

   "Her name's Sigrid." Fíli said distractedly, still trying to figure out exactly when his idiot brother had strayed so far as to have fallen in love with an elf of all things.

Kíli let out a bark of laughter, clutching his stomach as he doubled over when Fíli realized in horror the hidden intent of his brother's brazen comment and just how successful it had been.

   Fíli felt the flush in his cheeks deepen. "It was one conversation, nothing more will come of it and if you value what little beard you have you'll never mention it again." he said gruffly.

   Kíli, still guffawing held up his hands in surrender. "I value your life too much brother, Bard is a dragon slayer after all." Fíli dived on him, wrestling him to the ground with only the slightest intent of causing any real damage.

 

They were too busy to hear the whistle of the arrow that flew through the air but they saw it land with a thud right where Fíli’s hand had been not a moment before.

Fíli scrambled to his feet pulling hunting knives from his forearms as he looked franticly left and right. Kíli too had jumped up but having discarded his weapons within Erebor he stood armed with only a rock in his hand.

   Fíli glanced over and motioned to him. “Kíli get down!”

   Kíli shook his head doggedly. “Just toss me a blade!”

   “I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Dwarf.” Came a cool, velvety voice from the darkness.

Fíli groaned inwardly; Elves.

The unnaturally tall creatures came forth from the shadows, bows drawn and Fíli recognised their leader as the Mirkwood guard who had stripped him of his own weapons before imprisoning them not so long ago.

   “So this is how Dwarves are made, how crude and yet, not unexpected.” The leader smirked.

   Fíli sneered at him. “Leave this mountain now Elfling.”

   The elf ignored him. “So you came by new weapons I see, somewhat of an upgrade from the last ones but I guess you had much too choose from.”

   Fíli realised with alarm what the elf was doing; He had been sent on a reconnaissance mission to scout out the Dwarf’s defences. Fíli drew himself up and squared his shoulders, an image of fierce Dwarven pride. “Do not try to fool us with false words elf we know why you are here and I will not say this again; leave now!” He saw the bow arms of the elves tense and readied himself to dive and slash, anticipating how he might throw Kíli the blade at his back. But the elf held up a hand and in one synchronised motion the elves withdrew their arrows and sheathed them.

   “We will not waste our arrows tonight.” and it was understood by all that tomorrow would be another matter. The elves melted back into the shadows from which they had come leaving the two dwarves bristling.

   Fíli turned to his brother feeling the dread and despair settle over him again. "We'd better get back before the entrance is completely blocked." Kíli nodded solemnly and together they headed back towards the small glow of light that marked the only hole left in the entrance to the fortress of Erebor.

 

 

When morning came Fíli found himself amongst the treasure hoards searching fruitlessly for the Arkenstone. It was only when a still muttering Thorin left that Fíli allowed himself to slump down against a gold suit of armour and buried his head in his hands.

He needed someone to tell him what to do; he needed someone to tell him what the right course of action was, to guide his ragged heart. And of all the faces his mind could have conjured; Kíli's, his mother's, Bilbo’s, even Balin's, it was Sigrid's that appeared to ease his troubles.

Appearing like the illusion she was, Sigrid settled herself silently upon a pile of gold just as she had done on the rock by the lake. Fíli didn't know if it was crippling exhaustion or some strange outcome of the sickness that lay upon the surrounding treasure but he accepted her presence in his imagination, even welcomed it.

   "So, why am I here Fíli?" Sigrid’s voice was soft but one eyebrow was slightly raised.

Fíli looked at her and the feeling of relief that had made him share his soul with her at the Lake that night washed over him again, and suddenly the idea of talking to an imaginary version of her wasn't strange, just comforting.

   "I was hoping you would tell me," He sighed. "since you are a part of me." And he was intrigued that he liked how that sounded, Kíli must have been rubbing off on him.

   "We'll then," She said matter-of-factly. "I'd say that I'm here because you need to make a decision and the closest you’ve come to feeling like you knew who you where and what you wanted was when you were with me."

   Fíli blinked. "Imaginary you doesn't hold back does she."

   "Imaginary me is you." She reminded him with a smile.

   "Right." He rubbed his eyes, exhausted by how hard his mind was working right now.

   The imaginary Sigrid reached out and gently squeezed his hands, the echoing memory of her touch almost enough to make it real. "Make the right decision Fíli, even if it is the hardest thing you have ever done, even if it goes against everything you know, because you will have to live with the consequences and others might die by them." 

   Fíli looked into the eyes he remembered; intoxicatingly expressive and beautiful in their pain. "I don't think I'm strong enough to do it." He whispered.

   "You defied him once to do the right thing and you can do it again and be the better dwarf for it. But if you don't believe that you can do it then neither can I."

He wanted her to believe in him, for this to be real but he knew that she had probably already forgotten her conversation with a dwarf by the burning lake. He was about to speak when a distant shouting reached him from the halls above and just like that the illusion was shattered and he was alone and empty handed in a room full of gold.

   "Fíli! Fíli Lad where are you?" Bofur came sprinting onto one of the raised platforms, his always precisely placed hat askew.

   "Down here Bofur," Fíli reluctantly lifted himself from the ground. "How can I be of service?"

   "Lad there's an army of elves and men approaching from Dale, hundreds of them. Thorin wants everyone armed and at the parapet now."

Fíli froze knowing he was too late, he had waited too long to do the right thing. As the truth came to him the icy fingers of dread laced their way around the throat and stole his breath; they were about to go to war and they were gravely outnumbered.

 

Chapter Text

The journey to Dale had been painstakingly slow, despite Smaug’s decimation of their possessions and of the frail there was still much to transport and many who needed assistance. So, Sigrid took it upon herself to remain at the tail end of the procession and ensure that nothing was left behind while Bard took Tilda and Bain ahead to lead their people into their new home.

Like a shepherd tending a flock Sigrid moved from straggler to straggler, helping them to bear their load for a short while until the needs of another became more urgent and she was forced to move on. It might have seemed strange to an outsider but it was in these moments that the survivors first came to regard her as their Lady; when she lifted a stretcher, as she pushed a laden cart, and when she carried an exhausted child on her back. They marvelled at the fortitude of Bard’s oldest daughter, never having had cause to know her before the desolation or to see that it was in fact a long entrenched quality. Now they beheld her with curious awe, wondering where this fragile looking girl drew such determined and honest strength from.

Sigrid herself felt she was only following the example set by her Da and was continually confused by the reverence her old neighbours displayed. She had asked one of the stragglers about it as she carried a basket of possessions so as to give the older woman's arms a rest. Eira had known Sigrid's late mother and had often been a source of female wisdom as Sigrid grew into womanhood, sharing a strong bond with the younger girl. Now they walked side by side, Sigrid feeling a reprieve in Eira's familiar company although the woman had scoffed affectionately at Sigrid's question before answering.

   "My dear it is only a matter of time before your father is crowned as the rightful King and they know it, you are no longer a just a Bargeman's daughter; you are a Lady of your people."

   Sigrid sighed. "So I have been made aware. But what I didn't understand is how they could think that Da would have forgotten that not two days ago they would rather imprison him than follow him? How can he lead them when they have been so easily swayed against him before?"

   "Ahh well I suspect that has something to do with the fact that you Da shot down a rather large dragon and saved many of their lives. Nothing begets favour quite like the debt of life and nothing gains respect quite like heroism. But I sense that their shame for their past actions is what keeps them from meeting your eyes. I wouldn't worry child, we survivors had more than our possessions destroyed in the fire and now we are ready to start anew."

   Sigrid nodded in contemplation. "And my life shall begin anew? No more trying to fit Bain into clothes he grew out of two seasons ago?"

   "Certainly not." Eira laughed. "As a Lady you will live an entirely different life in Dale, that is, until you are married of course."

   "Married!" Yelped Sigrid.

   Eira nodded. "Oh yes, you are certainly of age. Give it a week or so and suitors from far and wide will start knocking, eager to make connections to this new kingdom of ours. Although, I suspect that they will have a hard time getting past your father."

   "But my life is to become a political bargaining tool?"

   "No!" Sigrid was startled by the emphatic force of the old woman's words. "Sigrid you mustn’t underestimate the importance of your own opinions; the weight of your own power. It might appear different to the power of a king but it is no less potent, you will simply have to learn to play the game a little differently than they do, and play it better.” At Sigrid’s panicked expression she added soothingly. “But your Da will never trade you happiness for Dale's prosperity.”

   Sigrid shifted the basket in her hands as they trudged onwards. "So what you are saying is that I can't escape my fate but I can shape it?"

   "My dear, if these past few days have taught me anything it is that nothing in this world is certain, not even fate."

 

 

They reached Dale as the first snowfall began and were grateful to find shelter amongst the ruins. It was eerie to walk through the city for never had a place that looked so alive felt so dead. Possessions lay where they had been hastily discarded in the streets, waiting to be picked up and to continue on with their lives, but only the layers of dust and their varying  states of decay revealed just how much time had passed.

On arrival the people had dispersed in search of habitable dwellings and Sigrid, having met up with her family again, ventured into the dwelling of their ancestors. It was while Bard inspected the grand structure for weakness that a great cry went up from the northern side of the city and fearing the worst he raced towards the sounds, his children following close behind.

   "The braziers, the braziers of Erebor are lit. The King beneath the mountain lives!"

As they got closer Sigrid heard the words but wouldn’t give in to hope before she had seen it for herself, so she followed Bard as he ascended a crumbling flight of steps and they stood atop the city wall.

The people had spoken the truth; the braziers of Erebor where indeed alight. The Dwarves had survived and had reclaimed their mountain at last.

   "They did it." She whispered, astonished. A euphoric grin dawned on her face as joy for Fíli and his companions filled her heart as if it had been her own quest. She had after all shared in his anguish over the fate of his kin and watched his distress as he stayed by his dying brother’s side. It would make a nice change to see him smile, to see his blue eyes light up and the corners of his mouth lift beneath his braids.

She turned to share the joy with her Da but Bard did not smile, his mouth was set in a grim line as he surveyed the mountain.

   "What's the matter Da?" Bain asked, ever looking to his father as a template for his own response.

   Bard turned away from the mountain to face Bain. "Only that I do not know who guards their gold more fiercely; a Dragon or Dwarves."

   "Yes but Da they promised." Tilda explained patiently, as if her father had forgotten the meaning of the thing. "Everyone knows you can't break a promise."

Bard smiled down at his youngest but still worry lingered in his eyes.

   Sigrid saw this and gave his arm a squeeze before turning to Tilda and Bain. "I don't know about you but I could use a sleep and then I think tomorrow we can set about exploring this old city. What do you say?"

Her siblings nodded eagerly and together they climbed down from the wall, leaving Bard to watch their departure before turning back to face Erebor. He had grown up reading the waters of the lake to navigate his barge through its lurking dangers and that same sense of misgiving stirred within him now. However there was one thing that he knew for sure; whatever troubles the dwarves brought their way his children would not suffer through it again, not while he still drew breath.

 

 

Sigrid was greeted the next morning by the sight of an army of stoic and intimidating elves marching past her door. Wondering for a moment if perhaps she had strayed into a dream she blinked, shook her head and drew her shawl tighter about her shoulders before hurrying to find her Da. Sure it wasn’t a sight that you saw everyday but given recent events; Dwarves emerging from the toilet, Orcs and Elves invading the house, and then a dragon burning down the city, well, an army of elves didn’t seem too farfetched.

But as if the first sight had not been strange enough, she saw her Da in the old city square conversing with an intimidatingly regally Elf who sat astride an Elk and was inclining his head towards a procession of carts that carried an entire harvest's worth of produce. She forgot her bewilderment in relief at the sight of the food but as the crowds swelled and surged forwards Sigrid was buffeted along, so she not hear the words the elf spoke to her father and she didn’t see Bard's face fall before the elf turned away and Bard followed him.

Sigrid was knocked roughly aside and as she rubbed her shoulder scowling she watched the surrounding chaos; the elves had stood back as men began to climb the carts and pass down the food which seemed to disappear into the crowds, each person taking what they wanted. This was no way to go about it, it was all well and good to have the food now but they needed to ration and stockpile until the farms were producing or trade had been established. Someone needed to do something about it, now. Sigrid pushed forwards through the crowds until she had pulled herself atop the first cart to survey the sea of people. She swallowed, her throat suddenly dry, she had never addressed a crowed before.

You are brave. His words echoed in her mind.

   "People of Dale," She shouted, her voice strong and clear carried above the noise and they turned to her and fell quiet. She repeated his words to herself again. "Do not take this food into your homes when it can be divided in equal measure. No man, woman, or child has the right to more than another and we will not begin this new age with full stomachs while our neighbours starve. Let us send this food to the Keep so that it can be recorded and given out in equal measure." A hissing whisper started up and Sigrid's heart quaked at the suspicion she saw in their eyes.

   "The master took 'alf our gold an' kept for himself and now you would do the same with our food." A gruff voice called out to much murmured ascent, searching she found its owner; a humble fisherman with a family of many children, at least he had many children before the fires, now she did not know.

Sigrid gulped as many eyes bore into her. You are brave.

   "No master Ronan, but I would see that this food lasts us through the winter. You saw the outlying farms, the cold has hardened the ground and it will not yield until the winter breaks which is no for some month. For now, this is all the produce we have and it would seem a shame to gorge ourselves today and then starve tomorrow. But," and she folded her arms. "If you want to go ahead then I will leave the choice up to you. Otherwise, perhaps you Ronan might consent to overseeing the proper storing of the food?" There was a moment of doubt as she waited but then came a mumble of accent and even, although she didn't dare hope it, a dash of pride in the people of Dale’s eyes as they regarded their Lady.

   She looked to the gruff figure of Ronan standing amongst the crowds and saw him nod in approval. "I accept, my Lady." He called and Sigrid sighed in relief before climbing down to help direct the food towards the old Keep while Ronan began shouting instructions.

 

 

It took all morning and much of the afternoon as the elves did not interfere, they left the square to space themselves out across the city walls, a silent and foreboding sentinel. But Sigrid hadn't spared them a second thought, she was too busy answering all manner of menial yet crucial questions to the best of her ability. The moving of the produce had been one matter but finding someone who could make legible records of it was another. And then there was the pressing issue that they could not wait for the records and measures to be made to eat today. To her intense relief she did not have to make all the decisions and trusted the more administrative tasks to others, preferring to assist any struggling individuals she could.

When she felt the task was well in hand she slipped away quietly to find her Da, no doubt he had forgotten to eat again. Trying to navigate the lane ways and streets of Dale she got lost once or twice before remembering with a twinge of guilt that she had promised Bain and Tilda that she would go exploring with them. But there was no time to lament these small losses, especial when they would gain so much in the long term.

Eventually she caught sight of the Elf King's somewhat unnecessarily extravagant tent and saw her father follow an weathered old man with a pointed grey hat into the tent. Gathering her skirts she made to move forward only to find her way obscured by two Elves clad in their sleek and intricately embossed armour.

   "No one comes past here." The one to the left spoke.

   "But I need to see my father and he is in that tent.”

The elf on the right turned his head slightly towards the other but the one who spoke shook his head as he appraised Sigrid sternly.

   "Just because you are a human girl does not mean that you don't have concealed weapons." Sigrid felt this was ridiculously overly cautious but perhaps it was a lesson they had learnt the hard way.

   She folded her arms. "So search me." The elf looked amused. "You heard me. But, I look forward to telling my Da; the Dragon Slayer and future King of Dale, that two elf guards searched his daughter for weapons. I don't imagine that it would make political relations between our kingdoms any easier, would it?"

If this was the type of power that had Eira spoke of then Sigrid decided that she quite liked it; watching them almost quail under her hard stare until reluctantly they let her through and she strode toward the tent.

But inside that tent stood an Elven King, what she was pretty sure was a wizard, and a future King of men; what right did she have to be in there?

You are brave.

This time she didn’t just hear his voice saying the words, this time she said them to herself and felt her heart swell with courage. One day she would thank Fíli for what he had done. She could imagine that she might show him the stores and records and how it had been his words that helped her to speak up. Then she would take his hand and show him the dawn from the heights of Dale and perhaps one day he might show her the dawn under the mountain... Sigrid blushed, what a thing to think! And yet, in her head, it sounded like a very nice idea to spend the dawn with Fíli, a whole day even, or longer...

Shaking her head she was about to enter when Bard strode out of the tent and almost barrelled into her his eyes frantic.

   "Sigrid, what are you doing here?" He said holding her at arm’s length before pulling her into a tight embrace.

   "I came to see if you had eaten." Sigrid's voice was muffled. When her Da released her she glanced at the other faces that had emerged from the tent, the shortest of which she recognized as a member of Thorin's company. Bilbo smiled warmly in recognition at Sigrid and the wizard's eyes softened in kindness, only the Elf remained un-effected.

   "You are too good to me sweet Sigrid." He lowered his voice. "Find your siblings and meet me at the old armoury as quickly as you can."

She looked at him quizzically but he offered no explanation. Sigrid wanted to ask after the Dwarves but nodded and turned to do as her Da said, more than a little worried.

 

 

The armoury was surprisingly well stocked although covered in a thick layer of dust and the siblings stepped through gingerly, spotting the figure of their Da standing next to an ornate case.

   "What are we doing here Da?" Bain asked as they reached Bard.

   "I need you to take this." He handed Bane a sheathed sword and a bow with a quiver of arrows. They were more elegant and intricate than any weapon they had ever seen; inlayed metal with red feathers, sleek and yet captivating.

   "Da." Bain breathed in awe.

   "Sigrid, Tilda. Though they are small they can be dangerous if needed." And Bard handed them a set of daggers each.

Sigrid took hers and looked questioningly at her Da while Tilda ogled hers, taking the daggers eagerly in hand and running her fingers along their sheaths.

   "Da, what is this about? Is it about the elves because I don't think they will respond well to-"

   "It's not that." Bard said looking furtively around to ensure they were alone. "Look, I don't know what is going to happen but the Dwarves will not give us a share of the gold and there is an army of orcs marching towards that mountain.” Tilda gasped but Bard continued. “I won't have you three getting caught up in it. I need you to leave Dale now and make for the Forrest of Mirkwood."

Bain looked up, shocked. Sigrid too was stunned while Tilda's lip quivered.

   "Da no, if there is going to be a war then I will defend our kingdom by your side." Bain insisted.

Bard shook his head, his face anguished.

   "We shot the down dragon together, or have you already forgotten that Da? I brought you the arrow, how can you send me away?" Bain was angry now, confused and betrayed. He didn’t understand why his Da would turn him away when they should be standing together.

   Sigrid spoke softly but with no less anger. "Da, I will not go to safety and leave the rest of our people to suffer. You cannot ask that of us."

   Bard ran his hands through his hair, pulling at it in anguish. "I'm not asking you Sigrid I'm ordering you to take your siblings and leave. There isn't enough time to evacuate the city and more people will only slow you down but if you stay off the paths you will go unnoticed."

   Bain looked at his Da in disappointment and his words where cold. "How can you call yourself a king when you put your family before your people?"

   Bard looked at his son and the shame he saw there was almost enough to sway him but there was another force that drove his actions and its power was far greater. "Because my family is worth more than any kingship and I could not live, let alone be king if something where to happen to you."

Tilda sobbed and ran at her Da, flinging herself into his arms and burying her face in his jacket.

   "Promise me we will see you again Da. Promise me."

   "I can't do that Tilda." Bard said. "But if I we do see each other again I will never let you go again." Tilda nodded and clutched her Da tight before Bard detached her vice like grip and passed her over to Sigrid. Sigrid wished to convey a thousand words to her Da; to tell him that what he was doing was wrong but that she would still do the same in his shoes, to tell him that she loved him and that she would see him again soon. But she couldn't speak, and yet Bard knew the words her heart spoke and returned them.

Bain refused to look at his Da, too betrayed and angry, biting back furious tears. Bard pulled him into an embrace and whispered words for his ears only and when they pulled apart Bain drew himself. Before his own eyes Bard witnessed his son assume the mantle of a man and bitterly wondered how much more could be taken from them.

   "Go now while there is still some light and don't look back." Bard thrust packs of food into their hands.

   "I love you Da." Tilda whispered.

   "And I love you my dearest. When this is all over I will find you and we can be together again. Now go and be safe."

And with that the three siblings stowed away into the night.

 

 

Chapter Text

Barricaded inside the halls of Erebor listening to the sounds of the elves, men, dwarves, and orcs wage battle on the outside, Fíli had never felt so ashamed or so utterly hopeless. How had it come to this?

On the eve of battle he had found no rest, not even in sleep and so he roused himself just before the break of dawn in order to commence his watch. There he sat alone on the platform, scouring the desolate plains for any sign of movement but all was eerily still, even the snow had ceased to fall sometime in the night.

As the soft winter sun crept over the hills and illuminated the city of Dale its rays of light filtered through cracks and holes in the structure as if to highlight the scars of the past, but Fíli thought that it only made the city all the more breathtaking.  Sighing he wondered if Sigrid was safe and wished for her a long and happy life, if anyone deserved it she did. He imagined her leading her people; protecting and inspiring them with her kindness and courage. But then in his mind’s eye he imagined her falling in love with another, raising her children, spending the years of her life with someone else, and forgetting him as he slept for eternity under the Mountain. He furiously brushed away the tear that splashed onto the cold stone floor.

That was when he heard a scuffling at the base of the platform; it was coming from outside the Mountain. Jumping up and pulling his blades from the scabbards at his back Fíli felt his heart rate quicken as he stepped towards the edge.

                “Who dares to enter the Mountain of Erebor?” He called out over the rampart, tensed to jump back and sound the alarm.

                “Don’t attack! It’s me.” came a muffled voice, huffing and grunting as it worked its way up the wall.

                Fíli nearly dropped his swords in shock before hurrying to help pull the would-be invader over the ledge. “Bilbo, I thought you were in the Mountain. What are you doing out here?” He said in hushed confusion as the hobbit swung his hairy feet over the ledge and dropped down onto the floor panting.

                Bilbo gasped in great lung-fulls of air holding up an apologetic hand and Fíli waited patiently until Bilbo could gather his breath into speech. “I went to Dale to speak to them; to Bard, Gandalf, and the Elvenking. Fíli, I think I have found a way so that there will be no war.”

                "Bilbo," Fíli sighed. "The sickness is too strong and uncle cannot be swayed from this course; he will not give up any share of the treasure, no matter the cause.”

                Bilbo smiled sorrowfully. “That is exactly my point, I dare not tell you anymore just in case… well there is no use worrying about that, but for now there is still hope; we may all come through this alive.”

Why, why at Bilbo’s words had Fíli seen a future flash before his eyes when it would only be ripped from him; Sigrid beside him, her hand in his, his brother’s laugh, his mother’s embrace, his uncle’s smile. In that moment Fíli would have given anything to have another’s heart, a heart that was not so easily prone to hope when hope was futile. He wanted to rip his own out of his chest and hurl it far from him for he knew only too well the pain of feeling it break from within.

                "Fíli?" Bilbo’s concern broke through his thoughts.

                “It's nothing." He brushed away the concern. "Thank you Bilbo Baggins, thank you for all that you have given us. Now go before you are found out and rest well my friend.”

                Bilbo rested a kind hand on Fíli’s shoulder. “There is no shame in reckless hope, you dwarves would never have come knocking on my door if didn’t have it, and if you hadn’t I would still be sitting at home with a full pantry but something missing in here." Bilbo tapped the place over his heart. "Don’t give up on hope Fíli; that is the fight that truly matters.” Then he turned and crept silently back into the Mountain's halls, leaving Fíli to brood on his words as the sun continued to dawn over the Mountain.

 

 

Later that day when the armies of elves and men were assembled at the barricaded doors Fíli stood resolutely behind his uncle. He had been too late to stop Thorin from turning Bard away, just as he had been too late stop the sickness from taking a hold, and although he felt he could not atone for these wrongs he would now stand behind Thorin and defend him in peace or battle until his last breath because that’s what the uncle who raised him would have done.

But the uncle who raised Fíli and his brother would never have tried to have Bilbo thrown from the ramparts. After that Fíli knew that there would be no turning back from the fight at their doorstep; if Thorin was so consumed that he could not see Bilbo’s good intentions then there was truly no help for them. Or so he had thought, until their Ironfoot kin came over the crests of the eastern hills, armed and fearsome to behold.  It had been a glorious sight and reminded Fíli and Kíli of the tales of old that spoke of glorious victories and courageous fighters, enthralling and inspiring the two young dwarves since before they had held a weapon in their own hands.

The inhabitants of Erebor were exultant in their joy not only because they were no longer fatally outnumbered but also because perhaps Thorin had never planned to sacrifice them for Erebor, and perhaps something of Thorin Oakenshield was yet to be consumed by sickness.

Then the orcs had arrived as Gandalf had heeded and the battle lines were re-drawn as Ironfoot, elves, and men united against a common enemy and Fíli’s battered heart hoped again, but Thorin ordered them to remain within the Mountain.

 

 

Now he sat inside the great halls wanting to be numb to it all, longing to never feel again, longing to escape everything; the pain, the hopelessness, and the shame. He let the golden shield and breastplate he bore fall to the ground; he didn’t need them and he wasn’t worthy of them.

He had made the choice to stand behind his uncle and deep down he knew that on some level it had been the right choice, but there was nothing right about the sounds of slaughter he could hear from the battlefield.

Fíli let his head fall into his hands and tried not to listen to the sounds, wishing that he, like Thorin, could disappear into the Mountain and not be chased by this tormenting guilt. He couldn’t stand to think of her face; the determined hope and strength he had seen in it would surly kill him, or worse, and the thought twisted his stomach like a blade, perhaps Dale had fallen and she herself was dead. Fíli's mind saw her eyes, cold and forever frozen in the excruciating pain of her final moments. He screwed up his eyes tight, desperately trying to drown the image in the darkness.

 

He didn’t know how long they waited or how long they listened not speaking to each other. It felt like an eternity, an eternity punctuated with the cries of life’s last breath echoing from the battle field. He couldn’t watch.

But then Thorin emerged from within treasure hordes and Kíli stood fast, the anguish in his heart too much to contain. Fíli saw the look in his younger brother’s eye and knew that he was offering Thorin the last of his hope to either throw in his face or use to reignite his own.

Fíli didn’t believe it when Thorin uttered the words, he was sure that it was his imagination. He listened to Thorin humbly ask them to stand by him in battle one last time but still he couldn’t bring his heart to hope for surely it was a cruel illusion. Even when he saw his uncle’s eyes, their manic desire vanquished he did not let himself hope, he just couldn’t do it again.

He rearmed himself in a daze as they prepared to go to war, even Kíli’s bright eyes could not penetrate the doubt and disbelief that shrouded him.

           “Fíli?” Thorin approached him contritely, half fearful of his nephew’s response. He could see the despair in the young dwarf’s eyes and it tortured Thorin that he had been the one to put it there. “Fili, I … I am so, so sorry, for all that I have done.” A tear slid down Thorin’s cheek and fell into his greying beard.

                Fíli fought to hold back what he knew was coming, to protect his fragile heart.

                “My sister-son I can ask for nothing more from you than what you have already given. I know now what you have always known and I am sorry it took me so long. But my only redemption is that one day you will be a true and great King and I will simply be your uncle, and there can be no higher honour than that.”

                And somewhere within Fíli's heart what little there remained of his hope stirred and then it roared because Fíli wanted to fight. He wanted to fight for Thorin, to fight for Kíli, for his mother, and for Sigrid. To fight for a future surrounded by those he loved, and most importantly to fight for himself and his own heart; to fight for his right to live in hope and happiness until the end of his days however close they might be.

                Fíli looked at his uncle and wordlessly stepped forward to press his forehead against Thorin’s.  “Uncle,” he finally said, his voice shaking with emotion. “there is nothing to forgive.”

                Thorin closed his eyes tightly and  as they stood there together Thorin knew that he would treasure this moment and his nephew’s loyalty in his heart until the end of his days. Then he turned to face his company with Fíli stounding proudly beside him. “One last time.” Thorin repeated, shouting the words into the halls and through the stone barricade. The company met his cry and prepared to make their last stand.

                Fíli stood with his brother as they exchanged a glance. “Together?” he asked.

                “Always.” came the reply.

 

Fíli’s only regret as they broke through the barricade and stormed the battlefields was that he had hoped that he might see her face just one last time. But all he had were memories and echoes, and for now that would have to be enough to see him through.

 


 

 

                “This was an awful, idiotic idea and I can’t believe that you talked me into it.” Sigrid grumbled as she Bain and Tilda ascended a nearby mountain, the weak morning winter sun rising above them.

                “Don’t even try to blame this on me, you know full well that if I hadn’t suggested it first you would have had the same idea soon enough.” Bain scoffed as he ploughed ahead through the snow.

                “And if Sigrid hadn’t said it then I’m sure that I would have had the exact same idea later.” Tilda added as she trudged on beside Sigrid.

                “Anyway,’ said Bain, turning to face the way they had come so he could see Dale and Erebor laid out beneath them. “It’s not as if we are completely disobeying Da; he said to get away from Dale and that’s what we’ve done, but at least from up here we can know what’s happening instead of hiding out in the woods.”

                Sigrid had to agree. She just hadn’t been able to reconcile with leaving her Da and their people behind to face the possibility of death while she went off to safety none the wiser, she just couldn’t do it, especially not after how far they had come since Laketown and not after how far she had come. “What is this place that we are heading for called again?” She called out to Bain.

                Bain’s answering yell drifted back on the wind just as the silhouette of a destitute watchtower emerged from the low hanging clouds. “I think they call it Ravenhill.”

 

 

In no time the siblings had trekked their way to the tower ruins and from a lower platform they were able to observe the armies of men and elves leave Dale and assemble before the impregnable gates of Erebor.

                “Do you truly think they will battle?” Bain asked, turning to as Sigrid as his fingers traced the red feathers in his quiver of arrows.

                Sigrid considered the procession bellow. “Honestly Bain, I don’t know what to think. On the one hand I know that our people desperately need the promised share of gold if we have any hope of rebuilding in Dale or Laketown. But on the other hand I think I can understand why the dwarves don’t want to give it away; they lost their home just like we did, and I can’t imagine wanting to give away what they suffered so much to reclaim.”

                "Well, I think we’re about to find out.” Bain gestured towards the gates of Erebor where they could just make out two distinct figures, one emitting a faint glow and even at a distance the other figure, although less distinct, she knew to be her Da.

They watched in silence and growing dread at the obvious lack of resolution between the two sides when suddenly Sigrid’s eyes caught a movement on a hill opposite theirs. At first it was so small that she dismissed it as insignificant, however almost at once it seemed to grow, expanding out along the top of the hill before she realised what the shape was.

                "Bain!" She prodded her brother’s shoulder urgently before pointing towards the hill. "Dwarves, it's an army of dwarves!"

                Bain’s eyes looked out to the east and widened when he saw them. "Erebor won't back down now, not when they have armed support. Where’s Tilda she won’t want to miss this?”

                “I think she was making some sort of snow pile at the bottom of the tower; she said something about a fort.” Sigrid lent to peer over the edge of the tower to see to where they had left Tilda but what she saw made her heart stop. Tilda was cowering against the wall while a leering orc advanced towards her, sinister blade in hand, ready to bleed her little sister's life blood upon the ground.

Sigrid didn't stop think about her next move but acting on instinct she leaped from the lower platform onto the cushioning pile of snow bellow. The drop had not been as high as it could have been but it still knocked the wind out of her lungs. There was no time to recover; relying on the advantage of her surprise appearance she managed to roll to the ground, her hands grabbing at the daggers still sheathed at her waist, putting herself between the orc and Tilda.

                Sigrid stood her ground, daggers held fast. "Don't even think about it orc."

It blinked, pausing for only a second before it tilted its head and bared its pointed teeth in a snarl, and then it pounced.

Sigrid pushed Tilda aside, dodging the snagging blade like her father had taught her and then whirling so that it was on the outside and unable to defend its wielder. Then she struck, sinking one of her own daggers into its thick, blackened flesh with all her might of her love for her sister. With grim satisfaction she watched the Orc splutter but she didn't see the arm holding the its blade swing back in her direction until it froze an inch from her face as the Orc shuddered and slumped backwards, a red feathered bow sticking out from the top of its head.

Sigrid looked up and saw Bain standing on the platform above, bow still drawn and ready to strike again if the orc showed any sign of life. She didn't spare the carcass another moment before hurriedly turning to her sister, grabbing her shoulders and looking her all over for wounds.

                Tilda was trembling. "I’m sorry Sigrid, I panicked; I was alone and I saw it and I-I couldn't do anything." She whimpered.

                “Hush now Tilda there is nothing to be sorry for, all that I care about is that you are unharmed.” Sigrid pulled her sister into a fierce embrace as Bain came running down the stairs and hurried over to them.

                "Are you hurt?" He asked as he threw his arms around them, bow falling limply at his side.

                "We are all fine." Sigrid said soothingly into Tilda’s hair.

                Bain broke away first. "We need to get out of here now.” He said and in his eyes Sigrid saw the realization that made her insides turn cold because she knew with dreadful certainty that the orc had not been alone. That meant that not only where the fighters about to be besieged by an army of Orcs but also that there would be a pack of them headed straight for where Sigrid, Bain, and Tilda now stood.

                Releasing Tilda, Sigrid thought furiously. It was all well and good to get far away but if the pack found the body of their scout they would start hunting for what had killed it. "Bain, help me move the body out of sight, quickly."

Without hesitation Bain grabbed the orc by its armour, wrinkling his nose at the foul thing while Sigrid and Tilda grabbed its legs.

                "We can throw it over the edge?" Bain suggested, peering at the frozen waterfall.

                Sigrid nodded. "Good, but let’s not get too close ourselves."

 

 

When the gruesome task was done they set off again at speed not a moment too soon with the intention of keeping the armies in sight but putting as much distance as possible between themselves as Ravenhill as possible. 

                "Where can we go?" Tilda asked, doing her best to keep up as they made they crossed the frozen river onto the other side.

                "Anywhere but here. The orcs must be planning on using the tower." Bain answered

They clung to the rocks, peering around them before venturing forward and relying on the remaining veil of the morning mist to cloak them from enemy eyes. They had made it a good distance when the sound of a deep and unfamiliar horn resounded from the battlefield bellow. Dreading what they might see the siblings drew together to peer down the mountain side.

                "Erebor! The dwarves of Erebor are joining the fight." Bain pointed to where the gates of Erebor were broken open casting rock and debris aside as thirteen figures charged from its depths.

                "No." Sigrid hadn't meant to say it but the word escaped her mouth as an anguished whisper.

                Bain and Tilda turned to her, brows furrowed. "Sigrid this is a good thing, they are on our side now, Da needs their help."

Sigrid watched as the dwarves rallied and surged against the orcs. She thought, or maybe she dreaded, that one of the gold clad figures at the front of the surge was Fíli and her heart leaped into her stomach.

                "Let's keep moving." Bain coaxed but Sigrid ignored him, transfixed. "Sigrid! We can't stop here, it's not safe."

                "Don't you get it Bain?" Sigrid said, not tearing her eyes from the battlefield. "Nowhere is safe, everyone is in danger. No matter where we go or what we do there is always danger."

                "Sigrid we don't have time for this, there could be more orcs anywhere." Bain pulled her arm.

                "But what's the point of running when we can't escape? Why not face whatever it is?"

                "The point is that we live! Sigrid please stop this, your scaring Tilda!" 

                Sigrid turned to Tilda to see that her sister’s eyes were indeed fearful. "I don't mean to scare you. I’m not saying that we should go back towards the orcs, what I'm saying is that we have to find a way of warning everyone that they are up there."

                "I don't think that's necessary. Look." Tilda pointed and Sigrid and Bain turned to see through the clearing mist that the Orcs had made their prescience at Ravenhill known by erecting a crude and immense structure atop the highest platform.

                 "They're not doing a very good job of hiding themselves." Tilda scorned.

                 "I don't think they are trying to hide Tilda." Bain said, relieved at the distraction.

                "Why not?" Tilda asked looking up at the structure.

                "Because they’re using the tower to signal their troop movements, so their leader can direct the battle from up high." Bain explained.

But another reason had occurred to Sigrid and it made the snow feel warm against the sudden chill of her skin. She peered over the side on the mountain again and saw what she dreaded; four figures, four dwarves, assailing the mountain besides them towards Ravenhill. In her heart Sigrid knew Fíli well enough to be sure that he would be amongst the group sent to take down the leader, both because of his skill and because Fíli wouldn't watch others charge into harm’s way without doing everything he could to protect them, and for that she realized she loved him.

It wasn’t a grand sweeping moment of realisation like those in the tales of old but a quiet and simple awareness of the pure truth in her heart. In that moment she knew she wasn’t just grateful to Fíli or simply attracted to him but that they were meant to find each other and never let go because through the tempest of grief and the pain he was her solace and she was his.

                Sigrid looked towards the distant silhouetted tower and spoke the words that mangled her heart.  "They're not trying to hide it because they want the dwarves to see it, they know they’ll come, it's a trap; they're going to kill them."

 

Chapter Text

This was it. Fíli had spent many nights in his life listening to the legend of how Thorin, the young Dwarven prince, had proved himself as a leader in battle; how the vision of him wielding nought but an oaken branch against the Defiler had inspired the battle weary dwarves to victory. Now it would be Fíli’s turn to forge a legacy in defence of those he loved, to prove to his people, and to himself, that he was worthy of being a son of Durin.

They were nearly there and as he, Kíli, Thorin, and Dwalin ascended Ravenhill astride Dain's battle rams Fíli could see the derelict watchtower set against the sky, ominous statues of ravens guarding its highest platforms. But despite what awaited them at their destination Fíli had never felt surer of their course. He knew the plan, there had been no need to discuss it; Thorin and Dwalin would engage the orcs from the front and Kíli and Fíli would follow from the sides. It was just how they were supposed to be; charging forward with the raw strength of the Dwarves but ensuring that they protected each other's back; warriors and family as one, everything was as it should be.

 

The sure-footed ram leapt from stone plinth to stone plinth taking Fíli higher above the others. As he got closer and heard the clash of the first swords he hooked his feet behind the ram's armour, freeing his hands to grip his twin blades tightly. Then as the ram leapt from above and into the fray Fíli unhooked his feet, diving into a roll and using that momentum to plunge his swords straight through an advancing orc before he came to stand completely upright, ready and eager to face the next opponent.

He slashed, swung, and hacked at the orcs, working in tandem with his brother as if they were of the same mind; where Kíli struck high Fíli struck low, when Fíli blocked Kíli attacked. Together they were no match for the orcs and with Dwalin and Thorin at their side they had soon littered the ground with the bodies of the enemy. With a final hack the brothers brought down the last orc on the landing and Fíli looked around anticipating a counter attack but all was still and quiet, there was not a living orc in sight.

           He turned to Thorin for direction but Thorin's eyes were locked on tower of Ravenhill, scouring every crevice and landing in sight, however Azog was nowhere to be seen. "Where is he?"

           The other’s followed Thorin's gaze. "It looks empty. Do you think Azog has fled?" Kíli wondered optimistically.

           But Thorin knew better. He knew with absolute certainty that Azog was not finished with the line of Durin because he himself was only too familiar with the pull of the manic obsession that had driven the Pale Orc to pursue him across the lands. "I don't think so." Thorin turned to face his nephews. "Fíli, take your brother, scout out the towers. Keep low and out of sight, if you see something report back, do not engage. Do you understand?"

Fíli nodded solemnly, recognising the responsibility and trust Thorin was placing in him and proudly determined to fulfil it.

           Before more words could be exchanged Dwalin returned from the upper landing. "We have company." He growled. "Goblin mercenaries. No more than a hundred."

They turned to see that sure enough, goblins were clambering over the decaying debris of Ravenhill and scuttling towards them.

           Fíli and Kíli stepped forwards to stand with their uncle but Thorin held out a hand. "We'll take care of them, go!" He urged and they did as he said.

 

As the brothers crept across the frozen lake and towards the tower ruins Fíli could not shake the unease that seeped from the air and into his bones. Surely Azog would not slink back into the shadows again, not when the battle was his to win? But, if they could just catch a glimpse of his location then they could get the upper hand. The brothers kept moving stealthily forwards, keeping low should they needed to make a swift escape.

The wind seemed to whistle through the tower, and Fíli had the eerie notion that it was the whispers of spirits. He pushed the thought away. Now was the time to do his duty not allow misgivings to get the better of him.

They ascended the first flight of stairs to the lowest platform of the main tower, the wind now howling through the open space, crying out in the forgotten language of the earth and sky for the brothers to turn back, but they only moved deeper into the ruins.

 

Then they heard it; a noise from above; small enough to not yet send them back to Thorin but loud enough to demand exploration. As the wind's cries intensified Kíli squared his shoulders and stepped forwards, sword at the ready.

Perhaps a deeper part of him heard the warning cries or perhaps it was simply the irrepressible, instinctual need to protect his brother from harm but Fíli threw out a hand and held Kíli back.

           "Stay here, search the lower levels." He whispered. Kíli looked hesitant. "I've got this." Fíli added reassuringly both to himself and to Kíli who nodded, trusting in the tactical wisdom in his older brother's words and turned to follow the direction.

Fíli felt his heat quicken and sensed the memory of her hands in his as he squeezed them tight, stepped forwards towards the tower stairs.

 

It wasn't until he had reached highest platform of the tower that he heard the definite sounds of orcs. He could hear many feet marching to the pulse of deep drums and saw firelight flicked of the walls in all directions, cutting of his only exit. Fíli felt his mouth go dry, his pulse quickened as he fought off the panic that threatened to cloud his mind. He turned to find Kíli and report back to Thorin but he knew with dreadful certainty that he had walked straight into a trap. He turned, frantically searching the walls around him for gap to slip through so he could warn the others, but no sooner had he begun he felt a sharp pressure in the centre of his back and froze, realizing with mounting terror that he was caught with no way out and nobody to help him.

 

If this was how it was to end, Fíli thought with grim determination, the least he could do would be to try and take some of them down with him. He knew he couldn't reach any of the blades sheathed at his back and he wouldn't be able to access the axes at his boots but he was nothing if not armed. Feeling the knife point in his back Fíli spread his arms wide in apparent surrender but as soon as he felt the pressure lessen slightly he moved his arms swiftly backwards, making sharp contact with his opponent's arm and forcing the blade away from his back, thrusting his elbow into the assailant's face before whirling around and pulling the blades from their sheaths at his arms.

What he saw then made his blood run cold. The snarling orc he had knocked aside was clambering back to its feet but that was the least of his problems; he was surrounded and utterly outnumbered. A dozen or more orcs were encircling him and at the front towered their monstrous leader; an Orc so pale he seemed translucent, an Orc with a crude blade in place of a forearm and Fíli recognized Azog the Defiler. He didn't have a chance of fighting back.

           "Drop it or we kill your brother first." The pale Orc growled, his mouth twisting in a cruel and victorious leer.

Fruitlessly calculating, Fíli let his daggers clatter loudly to the floor, hoping the sound would alert Kíli that something was dreadfully wrong but over the howling of the wind Kíli heard nothing from above.

 

The deep drums pulsed louder as Azog dragged him towards the platform and Fíli was certain now that the others would hear it and with awful clarity he realized that Azog intended to slaughter him so that Thorin could watch; could see the death of his line and the fate that awaited him.

 

When they came into sight of the lower landing Fíli saw Thorin with Dwalin and, to his surprise, Bilbo. He watched them gasp in horror as Azog hoisted him into the air, dangling him above the ground many feet below like garbage. But somewhere in the terror of his imminent death Fíli was grateful that he could not see Kíli; that his brother was not there to watch him die.

 

So this was it, these were to be his final moments on earth and as Azog proclaimed his vengeance on Thorin and Fíli accepted his fate he could think only of those he loved.

           "Go!" He yelled urgently to Thorin, hoping that if he couldn't do his duty to stand by Thorin in life then at least by his death he might give his family time to escape. But Thorin would not leave; he would not let his beloved nephew die alone, even if the only comfort he could give was to look into the terrified but determined blue eyes and desperately hope that his own spoke the words that time would not grant.

Fíli sensed Azog draw back his bladed arm to end his life and with his last breath he screamed for Thorin to run, silently begging him to find Kíli and to keep him safe; to complete the task he had failed and return. And as he felt his death drawing closer he saw her face; Sigrid's beautiful face before his, felt her intoxicating soul reach his through its soft grey windows and felt the squeeze of her hand in his; a goddess ready to lead him on to the heavens. He didn't want to leave this world yet, he wasn't ready, and not when there was so much he hadn't said, so much he hadn't told her, so much he hadn't done…

And then there was a whistling through the air, he heard a cry of pained outrage and before he knew what was happening he felt the hand that held him up release and then Fíli plummeted to the ground below. Fíli had just enough time to register that it must have been Kíli who had shot the Pale Orc's hand before he crashed into the ground and the world faded into black nothingness.

 

 

 

           "Fíli!" An urgent voice drifted to him through his dark haze, like a torch eating the darkness of a cave he mused dreamily.

           "Fíli please, you have to wake up!" The voice called more urgently this time, it was a soft voice he rather thought, a voice made of the blazing dawn and morning dew; he knew that voice. He started fighting the haze but it was like lifting endless layers of thick, heavy cobwebs.

He thought he felt a hand caress his face, roughened to touch yet tender in gesture and Fíli's conscious mind clung to it like an anchor and with great exertion he managed to drag himself from the depths of the darkness. He opened his eyes.

           Sigrid knelt over him, her hair tumbling free from its confines and her breathtaking face twisted in concern. "Don’t you dare close your eyes again, come on Fíli stay with me." She said fiercely, her hand still at his cheek.

           "Sigrid?" He said, his tongue feeling heavy in his mouth. He felt the tantalising weight darkness pull at his eyelids and he struggled to keep them open.

           "Yes. I'm right here. You’re going to be alright."

           Fíli looked wonderingly up into her eyes. "Why are you always saving me?"

           He could almost feel her breath on his face, her voice barely more than a whisper, she felt so real. "Because you showed me how to save myself and I'm not ready to let you go."

He groaned as he tried to lift his head but found that it also was entirely too heavy. A dulled pain throbbed in his back and legs and with the feeling of dampness around him he came to understand that his fall had been broken by a rather large mound of snow at the base of the tower.  The cold began to chase away the haze and slowly he realized that it would be impossible her to truly be there and that either he was dead and dreaming or the fall had knocked his mind around and he was awake and seeing visions.

As he blinked again the world shifted further into sharper focus and the clashing sounds of metal reached to his ears, and although he knew little of death he was positive that that sound was not a part of the other worlds. He sat bolt upright, the terror of his heart pushing aside any of the lingering darkness. Kíli, Thorin, and Dwalin. They were in danger if not already dead.

Imaginary Sigrid opened her mouth to speak.

           "Kíli!" He heard another voice cry out from far away. How strange that he should hear the she-elf's voice in his imagination.

           "Tauriel!" This time he knew he had not imagined it and he jumped his feet. Imaginary Sigrid drew backwards in alarm at this sudden movement.

           "What are you doing?" She asked, watching as he patted himself down until his fingers found what they searched for and he produced another weapon from the lining of his coat.

           "What I should have done before; I'm going to save my brother."

Imaginary Sigrid nodded, almost knowingly Fíli thought, but then of course she nodded knowingly, she was a part of him.

           "Be safe." She whispered, squeezing his hand. She felt so real, so alive.

Fíli squeezed her hand back and without another word he turned to chase the sounds of clashing swords. But he looked back at the last second, sure that if she was by some miracle the real Sigrid that she would be standing where he had left her, but alas there was not a trace of the fierce golden haired human and Fíli turned away again, wishing more than anything that she had been real.

 

He could hear Kíli's fierce cry of exertion and charged onwards, ignoring the sharpening pain in his back and leg as he leap up steps and flew through passageways, following the trail of bodies and the clash of metal that rung through the air.

As he rounded a bend he saw him; Kíli held up by the throat, Bolg raising a pointed mace above his chest, ready to bury it in his brother’s heart.

With a cry of rage Fíli leap from the rocks above, diving at the mace rather than at Bolg in a desperate to get it away from Kíli's chest. The force of his attack dragged the sharp point away from Kíli and out of Bolg's hands and the Orc seemed to freeze in shock at the sudden appearance of the golden haired prince.

Fíli and the mace clattered to the stone floor as all those in the vicinity froze; Bolg, Kíli, and Tauriel, staring at Fíli as he kicked the mace over the edge of the rocks and twirled his own weapon in hand.

           "Release my brother now Orc scum!"

Bolg blinked and then threw Kíli aside who grunted as he landed while Bolg stalked towards the golden haired dwarf, raising his monstrous fist to strike.

Fíli struck first. Anticipating Bolg's aim he stepped sideways at the last second and as the orc lurched forwards into the now empty space Fíli struck him from the side, hacking into the orc’s shoulder.

Bolg bellowed in rage, clutching his shoulder as fowl black blood oozed from the gash. Then with a cry of rage the orc used his uninjured arm to make a sweeping motion that was supposed to knock the golden haired dwarf off his feet but the arm never made contact before it to was sliced, this time by the raven haired dwarf and the two brothers advanced upon the orc. Bolg staggered to his feet facing away from precipice, unarmed and injured but still deadly. He never saw it coming; as the two dwarves charged forward blades in hand Bolg stepped backwards with the intention of bracing himself but a swift kick to his leg from behind unbalanced him and he teetered on the edge for a moment before a final kick from the she-elf sent him plummeting over the edge of the rock face.

 

           As they stood near the edge Kíli turned to the panting figure of his brother and nearly crushed him in a fierce embrace. "We thought you were dead." he thickly said into his brother's hair.

           Fíli winced but embraced Kíli just as tightly. "Not yet little brother, I belong here with you."

           Kíli released his brother, holding him at arm’s length to look him up and down incredulously. “But you fell so far and you did not move."

           "I was knocked out but landed on a well-placed pile of snow." Fíli shrugged. "But I should be thanking you, if you hadn’t sho Azog in the hand I would have been far worse off."

           "Fíli," Kíli looked at him bewildered. "What are you talking about; I do not have my bow, how could I have shot Azog? I thought he just let you fall?"

           Fíli frowned and then turned to Tauriel who had approached them cautiously. "Was it you, Tauriel?" He asked, using her name for the first time.

           She shook her head mournfully. "I also do not have my bow."

           Fíli looked around as if hoping he might spot his saviour nearby, but all was empty. "Who-" his question was cut off by the distant sounds of battle and Fíli recognized the guttural cried of Thorin amongst the clash of metal.

           He turned to his broth. "We must go to him." He turned back to Tauriel. "Will you come with us?" He heard Kíli’s intake of breath beside him.

           Tauriel smiled softly, taking Kíli's hand in her own. "I wouldn't be anywhere else." Kíli beamed and pressed his lips to her hand.

Fíli could have rolled his eyes; he could have dragged his brother away from the elf and advised him to forget her for their sakes and for Thorin's, but the sight of his brother's joy softened his prejudices. These two would face an onslaught of opposition to their union and if all they could manage was a few moments of bliss who was he to deny them? After all, he thought as he watched Tauriel pull her hand away to press a fierce kiss to Kíli's lips, love was not something to be contained or stifled, especially when time was mercilessly mortal.

 

By time they had reached Thorin it was too late to assist. Thorin stood on the frozen water watching as the body of Azog drifted along with the current and the Eagles flew overhead to vanquish the orcs on the battlefield. They raced toward him.

           "Thorin!" Kíli called out, overjoyed to see their uncle alive and unharmed. Thorin lifted his head and gasped at the sight of Fíli sprinting towards him. He had just turned to meet his nephews when Azog's blade broke through the ice, piercing Thorin's foot and pinning him where he stood.

           Fíli’s joy turned to terror in his mouth. “Thorin!" he cried out just as the Pale Orc broke through the ice.

Azog now stood above the pinioned Thorin and drove the blade towards his chest but Thorin raised his own weapon just in time so that it held death at bay, straining with all his might to keep the blade from plunging into his chest.

They were locked in place, Azog's blade unable to move against the dwarf's strength and Thorin unable to do any more than he did now. Thorin looked into the cold blue eyes of the pale Orc and knew as he had known before that Azog would not give up, not until all of Durin's line was dead or else he was defeated. Thorin knew what he had to do. If it meant that his nephews and the rest if his kin could live in peace then it would be worth it. This would be his redemption.

           "No!" from the right charged Fíli and Kíli, both screaming in hate and love as they brandished their swords.

The orc had no choice; he reluctantly withdrew his blade from Thorin's to defend himself against the princes of Durin.

These two worked together and began to move slowly as if to the opposite sides of an invisible circle that surrounded the orc, opening up the space so that Azog had a greater area to defend and more time in-between blows. Even with his monstrous size they were weakening the orc’s capacity to attack as he continued to turn between the two.

Thorin drew himself up from the ground. He did not notice the pain of his foot or feel the warmth spilling from his boot onto the ice with each step forwards but he came to stand halfway between his two nephews as Azog turned from one to the other, barely making it in time to block the next blow. He did not wait this time, not even to watch as the Pale Orc's cold blue eyes widen in shock. With a great bellow Thorin swung his blade through the air and the orc’s head thudded to the ground, Azog the Defiler was dead.

 

           "Fíli?" Thorin turned and staggered towards him.

Fíli himself felt light headed, succumbing to the suppressed consequences of his fall but he embraced his uncle.

           "How?" Thorin asked as he held himself up on Fíli's shoulder.

           "Never mind that now uncle, let’s get you to a healer!" Fíli ordered, trying to fight of the growing throbbing in his head.

           Thorin smiled tiredly. "No. I said that you would make a great king one day, but today I am still your uncle and I give the orders; no healers."

           Fíli put a hand to his head, half in exasperation and half to stem the painful thudding. "Whether you are my uncle or my king I am still your nephew and your heir and you will do as I say before you force me to become king."

           Kíli sighed. "If you both keep it up I’m going to be the only king left around here. You’re both going to the healers and that’s final.”

In all honesty the two older Durin’s didn’t have much say in the matter and were soon borne away from the frozen river, still under muttered protest, to the healing tents that were being set up on the body strewn battlefield below.

 

It was a day later when Fíli returned to the tower of Ravenhill and only after much sleep and then insisting that Oin’s ministrations would do more good elsewhere.

He gingerly climbed the stairs once again, glad that the cries of the wind had ceased and shuddered as he stood atop the highest platform, thinking that only yesterday he had looked down from here and accepted his death. When he turned from the precipice he scoured the stone floor until his eyes caught a flash of silver and red in a corner. Kneeling down he lifted up the two halves of the arrow that had saved his life and examined them. Fíli had never seen another like it; it had etchings along its silver body all the way from the red feathered end to the sleekly twisted head. He took the two halves and carried them over to the edge. Taking the head stained in the blood of the Defiler he cast it from the edge and watched it fall out if sight but with the feathered end he bent down and pulled at a lace from his boot, tying it around the arrow so that it hung like a pendant. Fíli would wear it always as a reminder of how short life truly was and as he ran his fingers over the crimson feathers he vowed to find the archer who had saved his life and to never rest until he had succeeded.

Chapter Text

                Da, why are you teaching me this?" Sigrid grumbled, shuffling her feet as she tried to stretch the stiffness in her neck.

                Bard didn't answer at first, instead he placed a hand over hers to guide it back to where it had moved from its correct position on the bow. Then he looked sadly down at his oldest daughter, her features and mannerisms so achingly reminiscent of her mother; her tumbles of blonde hair and the way her laugh seemed to burst forth unexpectedly, it used to remind him of a flock of birds taking off from the treetops…"Because my darling, sometimes no matter how hard we try we cannot protect those we love, so instead we teach them how to protect themselves and hope that it makes a difference."

He watched Sigrid's face pinched in thought; still so youthful, not yet past her 10th year and yet her spirit was already so resilient. It had only been a season since his wife had past.

                Sigrid seemed to come to an understanding and her brow furrowed in concentrated determination as she fixed her eyes upon the makeshift target set up on the shores of the lake. "Like this Da?" She drew her elbow back, pulling the string taut.

                "And now you have to release it." Bard encouraged over her shoulder.

Sigrid let go of the arrow and it sailed towards the target.

>>>―――――‒>

Sigrid didn’t have a plan when she left her bewildered siblings hidden in the cave, but she did at least have the sense to take Bain’s bow and arrow with her. As she trekked towards the tower one thought drove her determinedly forwards; she would not stand back like a coward while others bravely fought danger, she would not do nothing while Fíli and his kin walked into a trap. Now was her turn to be brave.

She crept towards the tower keeping low and peering around the edges of the rocks but saw no sign of life, not even the dwarves. Had they all left? Had she been mistaken?

That was when she heard it; the pulse of deep drums. She felt it reach through the ground and into her bones, but these were not the peaceful earthly rhythms that Fíli had told her about the morning by the lake, these were unnatural and menacing. It could only mean one thing: the orcs had launched their ambush; she was too late.

She would not turn back now, even when her every instinct and the howling wind seemed to beg her to run, she stayed. She would not give up hope that there was something she could do, she had to know. And then a glint of gold caught her eye from the top platform of the tower, a small ray of morning light catching upon metal and finding a path through the rubble to her eyes. Her heart faltered at what it saw. Fíli; captured and dragged out into the platform, Fíli; defenceless and alone amongst the enemy, Fíli; calling to someone that she could not see to go while he dangled above the ledge.

But Sigrid was no defenceless girl facing a knife wielding orc anymore and she would not stand by while the fates conspired to snatch away what she loved. She loaded the arrow and aimed, shifting slightly so that the wind might carry the arrow on its breath towards her target. Fíli’s face flashed before hers, blue eyes that had seemed to search her soul and silence her demons, a smile gentle that made her heart sing with joy to see it adorn his lips. She would not let that go. Sigrid let the arrow fly.

He was dead; that was her first thought after he fell out of sight. She had killed him. She hadn’t realised how close he was to the edge, she thought the arrow would send the hand the held him backwards, she didn’t think it would let go instantly. What had she done?

The sounds of fighting started up in earnest but Sigrid was frozen in her hiding spot. She could hear the sounds of metal clashing violently, the cries of orcs and dwarves piercing the cold air. Sigrid had dropped the bow in horror, she was gasping in the freezing air too fast, her head was spinning.  Fíli was dead. She had killed him. No. No. No. No! This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. But what if… no, it was too unlikely, and yet…

Sigrid raced forwards, forgetting the bow on the ground behind the rock as her heart clung to one last hope for Fíli. Could Tilda have been the one to save him?

The next time she was supposed to see him should have been different. She wasn’t supposed to fall to her knees besides his still body, and her heart should have filled with joy instead of grief. Sigrid ran her fingers through the golden mane of hair that framed his face. She took his still warm hand in hers holding it to her lips to stifle the violent sobs that were threatening to escape. But then she felt it; a faint beat, a rhythm in the wrist pressed to her mouth. He was alive.

When he woke she was sure he thought her an illusion as he did not yet seem aware of himself. But even as she anxiously watched the haze leave his eyes he still looked at her with disbelief, as if she couldn’t be real. She couldn’t blame him; she wasn’t supposed to be there.

Letting him go again had been as hard to do as the choice to come warn him had been easy, and she knew why she had to; they were both driven by the same love for others. But she hadn't watched him leave because she felt that if she did she would not be able to stop herself from begging him to stay.

>>>―――――‒>

Now she made her way back across the mountain, taking a hidden route that lead away from the frozen river and the sounds of battle. She needed to get back to Tilda and Bain.  The strange calmness that had befallen her made her steps feel more effortless than they had before, but after all, had she not just shot an orc and rescued a prince? A small smile played at the corners of her mouth. For the first time in a very long time she felt in control over her fate, as if she had power over the course of her life.

Surely the cave hadn't have been too much further, Sigrid thought as she rounded another corner along the hidden mountain pass. Then she spotted the opening concealed around another bend, at least they had picked a well hidden spot.

 

For the rest of her life Sigrid would never forget what she saw when she stepped into the cave, it would haunt her relentlessly in moments of sleep and wakefulness, a scar that time would never heal or erase. A sobbing Bain clutched the limp body of Tilda, both of their clothes covered in dark red blood and the body of an orc before them.

She would remember how she ran to them, how Bain told her through sobs that they had been followed and that Tilda had heard a noise and gone looking for Sigrid outside the cave. She would be able to recall clearly how her hands shook as she frantically tore cloth from her dress to stem the flow of blood that gushed from a gaping wound across Tilda's front, and how Tilda's eyes were already closed as if life had already left her.

Sigrid would remember them carrying Tilda back down to Dale while the eagles soared overhead, and she would remember wishing that she could fly as they dripped a trail of blood down the mountainside.

However she would remember very little after they arrived at the foothills of the mountain and laid Tilda down in the first of the healing tents. Sigrid didn't want to let her go, she wanted to hold on to her little sister and protect her like she should have done before. She would be told much later that she had screamed when the healers tried to prize Tilda from her, that the sound of her screams had brought Bard running because he would know the sound of his child’s pain from anywhere.

He raced into the tent and at first because Tilda's body was hidden from sight by the healers he looked relived to see Sigrid and Bain safe. But then the healers had shifted and Sigrid watched her father’s heart break when he saw Tilda. She watched as he ran forwards to hold Tilda's deathly pale cheeks in his shaking hands, watched him silently relive the death of his beloved wife, but worst of all she had to answer him when he asked what happened.

The words threatened to expose her as she shakily told her Da that they had been found by a scout.

It's all my fault.

She didn't tell her Da where they had been, that they hadn't listened to him and that because of her choices Tilda was dying.

It's all my fault.

Bard did not question her. He looked back to his youngest and rested his forehead against hers, begging the gods to take any strength he had and give it to Tilda.

Sigrid wouldn't let anyone push her aside as she helped them tend to the wound. As if driven by mania she worked with the healers as they cut away at the cloth of Tilda's dress to reveal the angry, gaping gash across her stomach. And although her own stomach turned and her hands shook, Sigrid refused to look at Tilda's face, refused to acknowledge that it was the body of her sister that lay mangled before her because if she could only blocked that part out then she might be useful.

But the healers only shook their heads sorrowfully, turning to Bard tell him that there was little that they could do, there was no way to fully stop the bleeding, that Tilda did not have long left.

That was when she couldn't keep pretending that it was not her sister whose blood soaked her hands and clothes. Sigrid rushed outside the tent and was violently sick.

                "Nothing?" She heard her Da’s agonised voice ask from inside.

She heard the healer’s comforting voice respond. "Such healing is beyond us, I doubt even the elves..." But Sigrid was running before she could hear another word. Of course, the healing power of the elves would save Tilda! She had watched as the fiery haired elf healed Fíli’s brother and that had been just as bad if not worse, surely they had the power to overcome this. Why hadn't she thought of it before?

>>>―――――‒>

Sigrid stepped over bodies, weaving her way through the dead and the living in search of an elf but for the life of her she could not see one anywhere.

                She grabbed the arm of a passer-by, an old man shuffling as he carried cloth from the city to the battlefield. "Where are the elves?" she asked urgently.

                “They be gatherin’ their kin and leavin’ for home Milady.” He said kindly.

                “But where are they?” Sigrid asked more pressingly.

                The old man pointed towards Dale “Last saw em’ was at the gates, their King was mighty keen to get goin’.”

Sigrid did not stop to thank him. She raced through Dale, pushing through people, jumping over bodies and debris. But just as the gates were nearly in sight she tripped, her leg caught at something and she fell hard onto her hands and knees. Bitterly fighting back sobs she tore away at what remained of the underskirt that had caught on the armour of an dead orc, but in that moment she spare the dress or the orc a though, all she could think was that these things stood between her sister and life. As she picked herself up again and continued on Sigrid thought of everything that had lead up to this moment as she stumbled through the ruins of ruins amongst the bodies of elves, men, and orcs, searching for the one hope that could save her sister.

It was all her fault.

All she had done was try to be brave and in the process Tilda had…

If only Tilda would be allowed to live Sigrid she would take it all back, everything, if only it meant there was a chance she would give it all up.

She rounded a corner, breath coming in ragged gasps and saw the elves, some armed and others bearing stretchers, preparing to leave through the gates as their king and his son lead the way.

                Sigrid raced forwards to stand between the King and the gates of Dale. “Stop, you cannot leave!” Sigrid addressed the Elvenking, taking in the flecks of black blood that spattered his silver armour.

                The Elvenking ignored her, making to step around her but Sigrid stepped with him. “Stand aside child.” The Elvenking dismissed, thought his son paused looking concerned. 

                “Not unless you help us.” Sigrid said determinedly.  “My sister she’s…she’s dying and the elves are the only hope she has.”

                Thranduil considered the girl standing before him; Bard’s daughter. Her dress was torn and smeared with blood, her eyes crazed and dirty tear stains ran down her face; an image of war and suffering. “I cannot help you child.” He said simply, turning away.

                He heard her cry of frustration from behind his back. “But we need you help! You have powers beyond that of our healers, I’ve seen it!”

                “What you have seen is the elves ability to heal themselves, we cannot-”

                “I saw Tauriel heal Kíli, he was dying from that arrow but she saved him!”

                Thranduil rounded back on her, this time he was irate. “What you saw was the effects of a Morgul shaft; Tauriel’s healed the poison not the wound itself and I cannot spare any of our healers when my own people also suffer greatly.”

                “That’s not good enough!” She cried out. “Surely anything you can do it will be better than doing nothing, than letting her die!”

Legolas looked from his father to the girl.

                “That would not be letting her die, that would merely be not interfering with the course of her life.” The elf seemed to regain his composure, drawing himself up to his fullest height and regarding the girl sternly. “It does not do well to interfere with the fate, not when it has already been decided. That is the way of the world.” He turned away and moved past her out of the gates, this time she didn’t try to stop him.

                “Please.” He heard her broken whisper. “Please I will do anything if your healers will just come and look at her, anything.”

Thranduil knew that sound. It was the breaking of a spirit, pleading as if words would somehow bring back a hope that had died. He knew that sound only too well. He kept his eyes on his assembling people; to look at her would be to succumb to the agony that he had supressed for so long. So Thranduil didn’t see Sigrid’s wild eyes cast around and he didn’t see them land on a fallen bow. But he heard the string draw and he whipped around, expecting to be facing the desperate girl at the other end of the arrow point himself, but instead she had drawn the bow and pointed it directly at Legolas.

Instantly every elf around them was on alert, drawing their swords and pointing their arrows at the girl, waiting for her to move.

Sigrid wasn’t scared anymore; she didn’t feel as if she had anything to lose. She didn’t take her eyes off of the king’s son, Legolas she thought she had heard Tauriel say. He looked at her sadly, not afraid that she would shoot because they both knew that as soon as her fingers moved she would be killed. Legolas looked at Sigrid and saw for the first time all that was wrong with the world; it wasn’t in the vile evil of the orcs but it the dead hope in the young girl’s eyes.

                Thranduil’s own eyes softened as he stepped between the point of the arrow and his son. “I don’t think you want to do that child.” He said pityingly, holding up a hand to tell his guards not to fire.

                Sigrid stood her ground, the point of her arrow now aimed at the king but still she did not tremble. “You would intervene to save the life of your son but you would not intervene to save the life of my sister?” she asked him sadly.

                Suddenly he seemed to grow older; there was an anguish in his eyes and a weariness to his face that neither Sigrid nor Legolas had ever seen before. Thranduil held out a placating hand. “I know how you feel. I know that right now the pain is too real to contemplate, too real to endure. I cannot lie and tell you that it will be tempered by the passing of time, some hurts run too deep. The rest of the world will move on while you feel as if your world has been ripped away.” He stepped further forward until the arrow point brushed against the silver plated armour over his heart. “There is nothing I or the healers can do to save her, that is the curse of mortals. Go now and be with her in her final moments, death does not so often grant us that luxury. Go and tell your sister that you love her and tell her not to be afraid. That is all you can do.” That was all he wished he could have done for his love.

The point of the arrow shook as violent sobs began to overthrow Sigrid’s body. Thrandril genly removed the bow and arrow from her shaking hands and in the absence of something to hold onto Sigrid found herself clinging to the cold armour of Elvenking.

Thranduil escorted Sigrid back to the healing tent on the outskirts of Dale. He did look over the tiny body of the girl who still clung to life but as he had suspected by the amount of blood on her sister’s dress, there was nothing to be done and he left them to their grief.

>>>―――――‒>

There were moments when Tilda seemed to come to consciousness, moments when her eyes opened and she smiled sleepily up at the faces of those she loved. The healers assured them that she was not in pain anymore, that her passing would be peaceful.

The day crept on but nothing changed, Tilda breathed on in peaceful slumber and Bard, Sigrid, and Bain did not leave her side. While Bain cried silent tears and Bard did everything he could to be strong for his baby girl, Sigrid shut it all out, blocked out everything except Tilda. She wiped Tilda’s brow and held her hand, occasionally adjusting her bandages and administering a healing paste; doing all she could to fight off Tilda’s last breath. Thranduil had been right; the world seemed to carry on outside their tent but none of it mattered. Nothing mattered except Tilda.

When the lights had begun to fade outside the tent and lamps had to be brought in Sigrid shrugged off the beckoning of sleep even when Da gently told her that he would wake her if anything changed; her own selfish desires would never keep her from her sister again.

It wasn’t until much later in the night that Tilda stirred and awoke, looking around to see her Da uncomfortably dozing in a chair and Bain also sleeping, sitting on the floor with his back resting against his Da’s legs. Only Sigrid was still awake.

On seeing Tilda’s eyes open Sigrid squeezed her hand to let her know that she was there and Tilda turned her head to look at her sister, weakly tightening her fingers around Sigrid’s hand.

                “Sigrid, am I dying?” Tilda asked quietly.

                Tears filled Sigrid’s eyes, she couldn’t lie to her. Some might have thought it would be a kindness but Sigrid didn’t want the last thing she said to Tilda to be a lie and so she spoke the words that shattered her heart. “Yes Tilda.”

                Tilda nodded in sleepy thoughtfulness, as if the idea was intriguing. “I thought so, but I don’t remember why.”

                “It was my fault.” Sigrid choked. “I left you and you went looking for me. I should have been there.”

                Tilda squeezed her hand. “You have always been protecting me, always. But I think now, now I will get to protect you.”

                Sigrid squeezed her hand even tighter. “I’m so sorry Tilda.” She whispered.

                “There is nothing to be sorry for Sigrid, nothing at all.”

Sigrid very gently climbed up onto the cot, careful not jostle her in the slightest and lifted Tilda’s head so that it rested in her lap, just as she had done many times when Tilda needed comfort from a night terror. Sigrid gently traced patterns across Tilda’s forehead, rubbing away all care and worry from her pale skin and Tilda closed her eyes again.

                “Will it hurt?” Tilda asked softly, her eyes still closed.

                Sigrid stopped drawing, feeling her hands shaking too much to continue. “No my darling it won’t hurt at all, I think it will be just like falling asleep.”

                “But I’ll be all alone.”

                “You will never be alone my love. Mam will be there waiting for you.”

                Tilda let out a sigh. “What was she like Sigrid?”

                Sigrid thought for a moment, looking back through the haze of the years to the memory of her mother. “She was a lot like you are; she liked to make Da laugh and she never listened to his advice. Do you know that she used to hold me like I am holding you now? She would tell me stories about the world beyond Laketown, about the elves and the dwarves and the great Kings of the south. Maybe one day we could go travel there and-” Sigrid’s voice faltered.

                “I would like that.” Tilda whispered, her voice growing tired.

                Tears dripped down Sigrid’s face and fell into her sister’s golden blond waves. “Don’t go.” She whispered. “Don’t leave me.”

                “I promise to wait for you Sigrid. No matter how long it takes I will wait.”

                “I promise I will never forget you, not ever.”

                “Not even when you are one hundred?” Tilda asked her voice slower now.

                “Not even then.” Sigrid sobbed.

                Tilda smiled again, her eyes still closed. “I think I can wait that long.”

 

And then somewhere in the night her spirit left her body and her family was left alone with nothing but the pressing dark quiet of the night.

>>>―――――‒>

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The once desolated kingdom of Erebor was now bursting with life, but confined to his chambers on bedrest Thorin saw little of it. It had been a week since the battle was won but the damage dealt to his foot had extended his confinement long past that of his nephews and long past the endurance of his patience.

Although he was under instruction to rest Thorin conducted himself as king from a chair in his chambers, flat-out refusing to rebuild a kingdom from his bed. Honestly, Thorin would have cut the wretched appendage off himself if he thought it would have gotten him out if this state any faster.  Most days his chamber was to be found filled with scroll laden Dwarves coming and going in varying states of distress for it seemed that Thorin's own frustration was manifesting itself through yelling and impatience.

 

Walking into the king's chambers one morning Fíli had to suppress a smirk. Thorin sat obstinately on his chair, blankets cast aside, crown firmly on his head, encircled by Balin, Dain, and various members of their kin all debating loudly over one another while Ori's sat in the corner, hand flying frantically across the paper.

            His arrival going unnoticed amongst cacophony of voices Fíli walked over to the young dwarf first and clapped him gently on the back. "Ori go and take a break, rest your hands. They're not likely to say anything of value before breakfast."

            Ori looked tentatively towards the vociferous group of dwarves. “If the crown prince insists then I guess it would be allowed."

            Fíli looked mildly affronted. "Don't be ridiculous Ori, I'm saying this as your friend. Now go before they realize they no longer have an audience."

With a quick and grateful smile Ori picked up his things and scurried from the room.

Fíli stepped forward, clearing his throat loudly to announce his arrival and a relived Thorin looked up.

            "Everyone out." He bellowed and although Dain and his compatriots grumbled they left, leaving Fíli alone with his uncle.

            As soon as the room was vacated Thorin groaned and gingerly lifted his foot to elevate it atop a cushioned stool and Fíli rushed forwards to help. Thorin let out a sigh as heavily bandaged foot came to rest atop the cushions and lent back in his chair, a soft smile spreading over his face. "Thank you."

            Fíli pulled up one of the recently vacated stools and sat, shaking his head. "Uncle you must rest, you won't get back on your feet any faster if you keep this up."

            Thorin scoffed dismissively. "Azog impaired my foot not my head. Erebor needs a king strong in mind and body if we are to truly rebuild, and there are still those who would look to destabilize us."

            Fíli frowned. "But we have defended our claim to the mountain; surely nobody would look to challenge us again so soon? You’re not worried are you uncle?"

            Thorin rubbed the spot on his head where his crown rested. "It is a king’s lot to worry, but the burden is much less with the knowledge that I have the support of my kin."

            "And when is Dain departing for the Iron Hills?"

            "As soon as I can walk to the throne myself, but he was not the only kin I was referring to." Thorin said, looking pointedly at his nephew.

            Fíli felt his cheeks flush and his heart swell with pleasure. "Have you had some Bilbo’s pipe weed, uncle?" he chuckled.

            Thorin glowered "Just because I can't walk doesn't mean I can't knock your head. I was going to tell you that watching how you have taken on the role of prince has only made me more certain you were born to be a king, and that it brings peace to my heart to know that Erebor’s future is safe in your hands."

            "Uncle," Fíli said, curious at this overt pronouncement of affection." you speak as if you were on your deathbed."

            "Perhaps we should all speak as if we were on our death beds. Such honesty and truth should not remembered only for our last breath." Thorin's eyes seemed to travel further than the confines of his chamber, lost in the distance and time of memories.

Fíli didn't say anything but waited patiently for his uncle to return. He knew that although Thorin had overcome the dragon sickness there were moments when the damage of the past seemed a more potent toxin, but Thorin would rather suffer in silence than drag others into his darkness. And though it pained him Fíli knew in his heart that it would take time, and that as Erebor slowly healed so to would his uncle.

            Thorin sighed and dragged himself from his reverie, turning to his nephew. "And how are you finding your new home? Did I not tell you that it was a place of wonder?"

            Fíli lent backwards on the stool as memories of his childhood flooded in on tides of nostalgia. “When you told us the tales of Erebor in my youth I would sit by the fire and imagine that if I looked from the depths of the Mountain to the ceiling above I might go on looking forever. I used to tell Kíli that when I was king I would make the throne big enough for two so that we both might sit on it together. But in truth I never spend much time thinking about what it might look like, only the things I would do when we got here.”

            Thorin smiled. “When I told you those tales I had similar dreams. I dreamt that one day I would bring my family home; that I would watch you grow up in these halls, that you would have your own family, no doubt as unruly as you and your brother were at that age, and that I would live out my days in the company of those whom my heart called home.” He sighed in contentment. “Now I can see my dreams as a future rather than a desperate hope.”

Thorin’s words sparked vision and dreams in Fíli’s mind; his mother returning, their family reunited in their homeland, growing old with his brother by his side. He pictured Sigrid smiling with his cooing child in her arms, a child with hair the colour of the morning sun and her grey eyes. Fíli smiled privately, how wondrous to think that all his dreams were entirely wrapped up other people.

            His uncle's voice brought him sharply back to the earth. "Fíli, we need to talk."

 His stomach lurched as if he had just missed a step. Had he been too obvious? Could Thorin sense where his mind had wondered? What would he say about his heir's desire to bind his life to a human instead of a dwarf?

            Thorin looked at him sternly and spoke. "It's about your brother." Fíli let out his breath. "What do you know of his connection with the elf who resides in these halls without my permission?" and Fíli felt his breath sucked right back in again.

            "How did you hear about that?" Fíli said guiltily.

            Thorin pointed grimly to his temple. "Foot not head remember. Now, what mess has he gotten himself into?"

Fíli fidgeted, wondering how much he should say for his brother and how much of Thorin’s rage he could temper before it was unleashed upon Kíli.

            "Fíli." Thorin's glower was enough to make him feel as if he was once again beardless and no higher than his uncle’s belt.

            "He's- Kíli is in love with Tauriel. The elf." He clarified looking furtively up at his uncle, cringing in anticipation of an explosion.

            Thorin didn't say anything, his face remained calmly impassive and if anything this was more terrifying than if he shouted. Thorin’s mouth slowly as if carefully considering his words that came from it. "In love with an elf?"

            Fíli nodded carefully and then throwing caution to the wind he added; "but before you disinherit him you must know that it is genuine; he believes he has found the one who will keep his heart forever." Fíli tried to gauge his uncle's still impassive face. "Uncle, she makes him happy, you cannot wish to take that from him."

            Thorin breathed heavily. "Of course I do not wish to do that but perhaps it is an attempt by the Elvenking to destabilize us by placing one of his own within Erebor?"

            Fíli sighed, relived that Thorin didn’t seemed to be inclined to start shouting. "I believe Tauriel to be pure in her intentions and from what I understand she has been exiled from the Mirkwood. She was the one to heal Kíli at Laketown against the wishes of her kin; what exists between the two of them is real, from both sides."

            Thorin put his head in his hands and let out a groan. "Why did it have to be an elf?"

            Fíli twisted the broken arrow around his neck. "Perhaps this might be a good thing uncle. A union between two races might help our two kingdoms to forge at the very least a peace between them, even if she is exiled?"

            Thorin lifted his head to eye Fíli as if he were a traitor. "I see that you have given this some thought."

            Fíli shuffled nervously but then Thorin smiled, all be it grimly but it was at least a smile. "You have a gift for acting like a brother and thinking like a king."

            "But you would not oppose them?" Fíli asked urgently, needing to know Thorin's verdict for his own sake as much as Kíli’s.

            His uncle sighed heavily. "I will neither disinherit him nor forbid this union as much as I may want to. But don't mistake me, when your brother works up the courage to tell me himself I will put the fear of the Mahal in him." This thought seemed to give Thorin some small measure of consolation. "And perhaps, as you say it will be good for Erebor in the long run."

            Fíli let go of his breath again. "Thank you uncle, this means more than you know."

            "Hmm, just promise me that you will act like the nephew I raised and pledge your heart to a dwarf."

Fíli swallowed but Thorin didn't seem to assume there would be any reason for Fíli to respond and had moved on in an effort to distract himself.

            "And how fares your own quest?" He gestured to the broken arrow at Fíli's throat. "I myself would quite like to know who our saviour was, although, if it was another elf you are to burry that arrow and we will never speak of it again."

            Fíli nodded. As much as he would endeavour to build a friendship with the elves, especially for the sake of his brother, he had spent all his life with the knowledge in his heart that much of his people's suffering might have been avoided if the elves had not turned away that fateful day. "Well it's not made by any smith amongst dwarves, that much is obvious." He said running his fingers along the intricate carving along the body. "But just in case I asked Dain's men if they recognized it."

            "And what did they say?"

            "First they told me that bows and arrows are for elves who don't want to get their pretty hands dirty, and then denied any association with it." Thorin snorted. "But Dain did say that the metal work was old, perhaps a hundred years or more.

            "Yes," Thorin said, reaching forwards to brush his fingers along the arrow. "There is certainly of age to the metal, and yet," Thorin traced a line down to the broken shaft and then looked up at Fíli. "When you are older and have worked with metal as long as I you will find that even the strongest substance can imbibe something of those it comes into contact with.

            "So you can sense who shot it?" Fíli asked, leaning forwards eagerly.

            Thorin closed his eyes as his fingers brushed the metal. "It is not so potent and particularly with an arrow which is only held briefly by archers before it is shot and it is never more than a faint whisper of the person. But this metal has a sense of renewal, and something of passionate courage to it." Thorin opened his eyes and removed his fingers from the arrow. "But that does not get us closer to discovering who it is."

            Fíli sighed "So after talking to Dain I went to Tauriel, Kíli's elf," he looked furtively at Thorin whose brow furrowed slightly at the statement. "and she said that she had never seen such an arrow and that the engravings had no elven meaning that she could discern. But," he added before Thorin could scoff. "She did say that the red feathers and relatively thin build meant that it was likely never intended to see war, that it was more in the line of family heirloom than a weapon."

            "Well then,” Thorin said clapping his hands together. “It would seem that the next step would be for you to go to Dale. Balin plans to overseas future relations with our neighbours and has suggested we send a company of our kin to assist with their restorations. I think it would bode well if the heir of Erebor was amongst them."

            Fíli struggled to suppress his joy at the idea; he had wanted to go to Dale from the moment he had been released from the healing tents but assisting the injured Thorin had to be his first priority. Fíli carefully controlled the smile that twitched the corners of his mouth. "You think the arrow came from Dale?"

            "Well they seem to be the only other option. But you must promise me that you will not strain yourself while you are there; your back will never be as strong as it once was after such a fall."

            Fíli groaned "Don't you think that's a bit hypocritical uncle?"

            "I mean what I say Fíli. Do not put yourself in peril for others if not for your own sake then for the sake of your family. You belong with us in the lands of the living."

            "Only if you can return the promise.”

            "I can agree to those terms." Thorin said and he lent forwards to place his forehead against his nephew's. "Now, get going before Balin leaves without you."

Fíli sprung eagerly from the stool and was out the door and along the corridor with more enthusiasm than was warranted for a diplomatic voyage.

 

Fíli found himself planning as he wove through the passages under the Mountain. He planned how he might talk with Sigrid again, how he might remind her of what they had shared at the lake, and how he might gently show her that his affection for her had only grown in distance. Small things at first; something to show how he admired her courage, something to show how he adored her heart, and something to show her how her beauty took his breath away. Yes, just small things to start with. Atop the tower in what he had thought would be his final moments he had lamented not telling her how he felt. Now that he had been gifted with another chance he would neither live nor die without knowing he had pursued his heart to her.

Arriving at his chamber he dressed faster than normal, hurriedly slipping his various blades into their places and feeling the familiar comfort of their weight. On his way out if his chamber he almost barrelled into Kíli who looked as if he had only just woken.

            "Where are you off to so early?" Kíli mumbled, rubbing sleep from his eyes.

            Fíli cheerfully clapped his brother on the back. "Can’t stop now brother; I'm on my way to Dale. Oh, and uncle wants a word with you about elves. Anyway, have fun when I'm gone and remember that there is another way out of the Mountain if you need an escape route." And with a final smile at his brother's pale face Fíli continued on his way to the entrance hall to catch Balin. A small part of him felt guilty about teasing Kíli, especially when he himself was similarly guilty, but Kíli and Tauriel would need to weather Thorin's disapproval if they hoped to stand together against the world, so a small bit of teasing from a loving brother was harmless.

 

->>>―――――‒>

 

Balin was pleased with the young prince’s enthusiasm and so the small company set off in good spirits for Dale. It was no great distance by road and yet passing through the battlefields the journey had never felt so long. Pain and suffering was splattered across these lands, the ground was scuffed up and although it now lay bare of bodies it did not take much imagination to see where death had claimed its prize.

Balin explained that while Fíli had been recuperating the recovery had taken two directions; the healing of the injured and the removal of the dead.

            “And what of the carcasses of the orcs?” Fíli asked through gritted teeth as they trotted past a patch of ground that had begun to sprout crimson blood flowers.

            “Burned, laddie. Taken and burned as far from here as we could manage.”

Fíli nodded in grim satisfaction.

->>>―――――‒>

 

As they approached, Fíli could not help but notice that Dale seemed rather less lively than Erebor, for although he could make out people moving within its walls there was no life to their movements, rather they seemed to move listlessly and without ardour. Perhaps their ongoing suffering had rendered them unable to yet enjoy these days of peace. Goodness knows he knew how it felt to see the world as if it were an endless tunnel of misery.

When they came to the gate he eagerly flung his legs over the side of his steed and stood besides Balin, watching carefully as a man bearing a spear and shield stepped forwards to meet them.

            “Greetings good sir, we are the dwarves and Erebor and we have come to seek an audience with your king in the hope of offering our assistance in the restoring of Dale to its former glory.” Balin said jovially, bowing to the stern faced man. The rest of the company also bowed but Fíli only inclined his head. Although not suspicious of Dale he was weary of the less than pleased expression on the man’s face and the tight grip on his spear.

            Finally the guard spoke. “The King of Dale will have no audience with visitors at present and so I cannot allow you to pass through.”

            Fíli looked to Balin in confusion and the older dwarf stepped forwards, Fíli still by his side. “Forgive me but I have been sent by Thorin Oakenshield, King under the Mountain to seek and audience with Bard, King of Dale to settle differences in the hopes that we might begin to rebuild the diplomatic relationship between our two kingdoms. I would imagine that to see such endeavours halted at the gates would be of no pleasure to either of our kings and of no benefit to either of our people?” The old Dwarf held out his hands in supplication.

            The guard absorbed the diplomatic words of the dwarf but still remained resolutely between them and the gates of Dale. “Our King will not take visitors from anyone, not even his own people.”

            Fíli frowned, Bard did not seem like the type of man to lock himself away when times got hard, especially when he had fought so hard to protect him family first from the master of Laketown and then from Smaug. He stepped forwards to inquire further but Balin reached out a hand. He did not look at the young prince but kept his eyes on the guard, sensing that something was no right; there was a sorrow to this man’s eyes when he spoke of his king.

            “What happened?” The older dwarf asked softly. Fíli looked confusedly at Balin and then in dawning horror at the guard.

            The man seemed taken aback by the kindness in the dwarf’s eye and the tension in his shoulders was overcome with sorrow as he said the words. “The King’s daughter was killed in the battle.”

Chapter Text

            “His daughter was killed in the battle.”

Fíli's breath snagged in his throat and a sound like the dying wind whispered past his lips.

Sigrid, dead.

His beating heart crashed against his chest; pounding, pounding, pounding… His mind was a wasteland but for a ringing silence growing within, obliterated everything except the words.

Sigrid, killed.

His head was an iron weight, his legs but water beneath him and he had to fight the need to collapse onto the ground. He reached blindly for Balin’s shoulder.

            “Which daughter?”

Fíli’s head snapped up at Balin’s question.

            “His youngest.” Replied the guard.

The breath escaped his throat. Intoxicating relief, terrible guilt, and then gut-wrenching sorrow engulfed him. It was Tilda, not Sigrid. Tilda.

He remembered the bright eyed young lass; a youthful reflection of Sigrid and yet another person entirely; just as fierce but seemingly undamaged by the horrors of her world. In her innocent naïveté she had reminded him of Kíli. How could he have rejoiced to hear that Tilda had been the one to die? He remembered hearing her wonder if the dwarves emerging from her toilet would bring her family luck and Fíli was hit with the painful knowledge of how fatally wrong she had been.

But his pain could be nothing compared to Sigrid’s.

Coming so close to losing Kíli; the terror, the idea of being separated by insurmountable mortality, the thought of having to say goodbye and then to wake each day and say it again and again... It had almost been too much to bear and he hadn’t truly known its toll until those moments by the lake when she had been there to share and sooth his pain. But for Sigrid there would be no relief from the agony; Kíli had lived, Tilda did not.

Balin spoke and Fíli was brought sharply back to earth. “My deepest condolences on behalf of Erebor and my kin. The world has lost one of its sweetest spirits and a great treasure.” He patted a hand to Fíli's back. “Come away laddie. There's little we can do here for now.” Head bowed Balin turned to inform their company but Fíli stepped forwards.

            “Sigrid, how is she?”

            The guard looked at the dwarf in confusion. “Who?”

            Fíli bristled at his ignorance. “Sigrid. Bard’s oldest daughter!”

            “I-I don’t-.” The guard clenched his spear tighter as the dwarf before him seemed to swell with rage.

           And before anyone could stop him Fíli was shouting. “Sigrid! She's the daughter of your king, the lady of your people, Tilda was her sister! How can you claim to protect her when you don't even know who she is!" Bofur and Nori had broken rank from the company to hold Fíli back as he made to advance on the guard who looked nervously behind him as two more men stepped to his side, spears at the ready. Passers-by stopped in alarm.

            “Why do you want to know about Sigrid?”

Dwarves and men alike looked up in surprise at the sound of the new voice. It belonged to a woman greatly weathered by age who had stopped on her way into the city at the sound of familiar names.

            Fíli closed his eyes, calming himself before looking to Bofur and Nori who relinquished him cautiously. “Please," Fíli stepped towards her "I know Sigrid, I know her family. Please tell me how she is?”

            The old lady gave him a withering look. “What do you think; they are devastated! But why should you care?”

            Fíli wasn't sure how to answer; how much to tell, but when she made to turn away he found the words of his heart already on his tongue and he called out to her retreating back. “I met Sigrid when her family gave us shelter in Laketown. But I knew little of her until after the dragon and after the fires.” The woman turned around and he swallowed heavily under the protective scrutiny of her gaze. “The first time I truly spoke to her was when we were by the Lake after the burning and I-I will never forget the look on her face that night; after everything she had seen, all that she had endured she was still so brave and so strong, even when she thought she was breaking." Fíli was so lost in the memory of the look in her eyes that he didn’t realise his words had drawn an audience. "I didn’t go looking for somebody else that night but when we found each other it was like I had been searching my whole life. And even though we were so different she knew my pain as well as she knew her own and I felt the same. We didn’t have to say much, we just sat by the lake and waited for the sun to rise and for the pain to ease, and slowly, with her there, it did. But then I had to leave, and yet in a way Sigrid stayed with me; she was the voice in my head giving me courage, guiding my heart when my head didn't know the way. So I’m asking you to tell me how she is because I need to know, I need to know so that I can find her and offer her some of the comfort she gave me, to be there for her even if there is nothing I can do.” There was shocked muttering at the unbridled sentiment of his words from the crowd of dwarves and men but Fíli didn't care, he ignored them and looked imploringly at the old woman and saw her eyes soften.

            “I know the strength that you speak of.” She murmured, looking away towards the castle walls. “She’s been that way all ‘er life but I never saw it stronger than when I placed Tilda in ‘er arms for the first time after their Mam passed. It was like she found a new purpose and from then on she cared for wee Tilda and Bain better than she did for ‘erself.” The woman turned back to Fíli, her eyes filling with sadness. “But now...”  She sighed. “Bard has locked himself away and Bain has done much like his father, but darling Sigrid is locked away by ‘er grief. She doesn’t speak to anyone but walks the halls as if she was a ghost. Ay, for the first few days she tried to keep going; she went to the halls of healing and tried to help but I think that every broken body she saw was ‘er sister and she just couldn't take it.” She wiped a tear from her eyes. “I was there when they laid precious Tilda to rest next to ‘er mother. I think that all her life Sigrid had to be the strong, oh they were all strong and perhaps Bard ‘as always been the face of that strength but Sigrid; that girl was the backbone and her siblings the lifeblood. I don’t think anyone is made to withstand such loss.” The woman brushed away at more tears. 

            Fíli laid a cautiously comforting hand on hers. “They are truly blessed to have one who cares for them so I’m truly sorry for your loss and pain it brings you. Please, can you take me to her?"

            The woman nodded but the guard cleared his throat and she rounded on him. “For goodness sakes, let him go to ‘er. When did protocol become more important than comforting them that are suffering?”

The guards looked for a moment as if they might protest but quelled under the furious glares of the woman and the company of dwarves behind her.

            Balin stepped forwards again. Many might have though the Balin, who had seen much sorrow in the long years of his life, would be used to the tragedies of the world, however those who knew him understood that his generous heart would not allow it to be so. Fíli met his eyes and saw their concern. “Fíli lad, are you sure this is wise?

            “I have to go Balin, I can’t do nothing.”

            Balin nodded, understanding. “And we shall make camp outside the walls until we are needed.” He turned to the woman. “Thank you for taking our lad, may I ask your name?”

            “Eira. But save your thanks, I do this more for them than for him.” She turned to Fíli. “You best cover your face; there are those who still see your kind as an enemy.”

Fíli lifted the hood of his blue cloak over his head, tucking the arrow at his throat behind his shirt for good measure and then followed the beckoning woman through the gates of Dale.

 

->>>―――――‒>

 

There was a sombre misery that seeped into the bones of the city. All was quiet except for the echoing of hammer meeting stone somewhere in the distance. People were few and far between and those they passed did not meet their eyes but kept to their own task.

            “Without our king we ‘ave had to guide ourselves through much of the repairs.” Eira explained as they stepped over debris.

            Fíli help out an arm to assist her over. “They do not resent Bard for that?” he asked curiously.

            Eira looked at him sharply. “Would you resent a man who shot down a dragon to saved your life lead your people to victory in battle only to lose his beloved daughter?"

            "Not at all."

            "Our people ‘ave lost their homes and their loved ones master dwarf, suffering and grief are not a weakness for us; they are a way of life."

            "Perhaps it is your endurance that is a way of life?" Fíli suggested as the crossed beneath a decaying archway.

            "Perhaps. But we will stand by our king in his grief and when he is ready we he will be a better king for it."

 

They didn’t speak again until they reached a flight of stairs that lead up to the walkway atop the city wall.

            Eira pointed. “You’ll find her at the top. It’s the only place that you can see the place where we buried Tilda.”

            Fíli clasped his hand her wizened hands. “Thank you Eira.”

            The woman smiled sadly. “Just help guide ‘er back to us, that’s all I ask.” Then she turned and moved back along the winding alleyways of Dale.

 

->>>―――――‒>

 

Fíli saw her as soon as he assailed the last step and he felt his heart crash into his rib cage; she made broken look so heartbreakingly beautiful.

Sigrid sat precariously on the edge of the city wall, her hair hanging limply down her back, legs drawn to her chest while her unseeing eyes looked across the land between Dale and the Long Lake.

He stepped forwards and slowly lowered the blue hood of his cloak, not wanting to make any sudden movements and startle her. But Sigrid did not look up; she was indeed locked in her own world.

            “Sigird.”

When she turned and her eyes locked onto his Fíli knew what it was to look upon the eyes of the dead set in the face of the living. There was no surprise, no confusion, just the recognition of another presence atop the wall before she turned her head back towards the barren lands.

            Fíli took another step forwards. “Sigrid, I’m so sorry about Tilda. If there is anything I can say or anything I can d-”

            “I need you to leave and never come back.” Sigrid’s impassive voice cut through his words.

            He faltered. “Sigrid, I-”.

            “Tilda died because of you.” Her voice quivered.

His heart plummeted. Of course she blamed the dwarves and she had every right to; as he had said that night on the lake; they had been the ones to bring the dragon fire upon her family. Now the dwarves had brought war to them again and her sister along with many others had paid the ultimate price. It was too late to say sorry, too late to ask for forgiveness or offer to repent for what was done, it wouldn't change anything.

But Fíli didn't move; he couldn't bring himself to leave her like this and when he didn't leave Sigrid swung her legs over the ledge and dropped onto the ground before him. Her eyes where no longer hollow shells of a soul, this time when she looked at him they were alight with terrible pain and furious anger.

      “If it wasn’t for you my sister would be alive.” She said again, and before he could say anything she was shouting, screaming in rage and pain as she stepped towards him. “Tilda would still be alive if it wasn’t for you! If you hadn't come into my life she wouldn't be dead! It’s all your fault! All your fault!” she reached him and feeling herself fall apart she made to push him away but his hands captured her wrists and held on tightly, wrestling with her until she simply couldn’t push away her heart anymore and she collapsed into his chest, sobbing.

            “Why?” she cried. “Why do you always find me when I’m broken?” she pulled back to look into his eyes, tears still streaming down her face, begging him to give her an answer in a world that seemed to have lost all logic and reason.

            Fíli pulled her close and pressed his lips to her forehead. He would have given anything he could to take away her pain; if he could cast it aside or claim it as his own he would do it. She closed her eyes, tears leaking from beneath her eyelashes as he whispered to her. “So I can help you put yourself back together again, the same way you showed me.”

Sobs racked her body and Fíli held her tighter trying to absorb her trembling. He had never felt more helpless, not even as he watched his uncle descend into madness. Thorin had seemed unreachable then but now Sigrid was there in his arms, utterly broken and yet there was nothing he could do but hold her and listen to the words she said quietly through her sobs.

Sigrid did not say the words to him, in truth she never had. She did not blame him. She whispered them to herself, saying the words that had tormented her mind ever since she had walked into the cave; “It’s all your fault. It’s all your fault. It’s all your fault.”

Fíli let the words hit him, each a blow more painful than his fall and he let it and let it and let it… until he couldn’t make her say them again. He stepped away.

            “I’ll go.” He says, watching the tears mark their path down her beautiful face, longing to reach out a finger and brush them away. “If that’s what you truly want right now I’ll go, but when you need somebody I’ll be here. I won’t leave you.”

In her battered heart Sigrid wanted to tell him to stay, that she didn’t want him to go, not really. But all she could see before her was a reminder of the choice she hadn't realised she was making; between Tilda and Fíli. And so she said nothing as he stepped backwards, she said nothing as he turned one last time at the top of the stairs, his blue eyes desperately reaching for what she could not say.

Fíli turned one last time to see her, silently begging her to say something; to tell him there was something he could do, any way he could repent for what they had taken from her. But Sigrid didn’t speak and he had to tear his eyes from hers and walk away. He knew that she might never be able to see past her blame and he couldn't hold that against her. And as he descended the stairs he realized that he had lost his heart forever to this girl, this girl whose own heart was too broken to give.

 

->>>―――――‒>

 

Fíli walked the streets of Dale in a daze, not caring if the people knew he was there, not noticing the looks of animosity on the faces he passed.

He came to one of the city's fallen walls where the men and women toiled together lifting stones and putting them back into place. Without a word he shed his cloak and stepped forwards to catch a stone before it fell out of a young boy's hands.

The boy looked at him and smiled in thanks and Fíli felt a pang in his chest; the boy had the same bright eyed look as Tilda, but then again, he thought, most children had that look before this cruel world stole it away.

Fíli followed the child to where they were passing stones along a line and joined them. These people didn’t seem to notice what he was, they were just grateful for another set of hands. Nobody here cared that his kin had brought them so much suffering because one look on his face told them that he suffered as much as they did. And so Fíli worked to silence his mind, and the sound of hammers clashing with stone and metal chased the words around his head;

It’s all your fault. It’s all your fault. It’s all your fault.

While somewhere high above and on the other side of the city, Sigrid sat atop a wall whispering those same words to herself, wishing with all her heart that they weren’t true.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

In the tales and songs the people of Dale would call these days The Days of Healing; when the survivors stopped living amongst the memories of the dead and re-joined the land of the living.

Some would say that it began when Bard emerged from behind the heavy doors of his keep, while others would proclaim that it began when the first stone was re-laid into the kingdom wall. But in truth it mattered little how it began, only that it did.

 

Bard never told a living soul why he threw open his doors that morning for all would question his sanity if he did. But just as grief appears differently upon all those it adorns, so too does healing.

 

One morning as he drifted between the lands of dreams and waking shrouded in his miasma of grief, a figure came before him. He knew her instantly; he saw her face each night in his dreams, saw traces of her in Sigrid’s eyes, in Bain’s smile in Tilda’s...

 

She reached out a hand to trace her finger along the tear tracks that marred his cheeks. Bard closed his eyes as he lent into her touch, soft and fleeting as a distant memory, but he could not bring himself to look into her eyes lest they should reflect any ounce of the blame he felt.

Her fingers caressed his cheek, lingering at the corners of his mouth and then trailed down to his chin, brushing the unkempt hair that grew there and lifting his face so that his eyes met again with hers.

            “My love, why do you bear your grief away from the light?” She asked. Bard's breath caught in his throat as he drank in the sound of her voice.

            “Because I have failed you both. I had one job on this earth; to protect her, to keep her from harm, but she died under my watch.” His voice broke.

            "You have not failed, my love, you have merely passed the task on to me." She said softly. "It was not you who commanded the evil that took her life.”

            "But I should have stayed with her."

            "And who knows how many others would have died if you had not fought and protected them, how many others would have suffered? The world is inexorably complex and our fates so intricately intertwined with others, if you pulled one string who knows what other lives might have unravelled. It is not the business of living to dwell in regret of your actions but to face the consequences. My love, you cannot shut yourself away anymore."

            "But I cannot face them." He whispered. "I cannot be the king they need when I am powerless to protect even my own children."

            She placed a hand each side of his face and spoke firmly. "The king they need is one who can raise their kingdom as you have done our children; with love and dedication. Who better than you who would do it without greed or thought of self-gain?”

            "Only because you taught me how."

            "And now you shall teach them." Her mouth was set in the determined line Sigrid often wore and it warmed his heart to see; to know that pieces of her lived on; that life endured death. Oh how he missed her.

            "How are we supposed to go on without you both?" he breathed.

            "You have not lost everything. Sigrid and Bain, they need you; they need you to show them that it's okay to succumb to the pain, but that you cannot allow it to dictate your future; the dead will wait. And then you need to teach them that the beauty of life is in living it with others; building yourself up around other people and letting them help you to pick up the pieces when you fall apart. We are not given the gift of love to keep it to ourselves. They need to know this."

            Bard felt a small wondrous smile twitch at his lips. "How do you always know what to say? How do you always know the right thing to do?"

            She lent forwards and pressed her forehead to his, smiling as she did so. "I was always wiser than you, my love, but only from years of doing the wrong thing. Do you not remember how we met?"

How could he forget? She had hidden from the irate baker after stealing a loaf to bread and in doing so she had stolen the heart of the boy with whom she had bargained for sanctuary in the barrels of his father’s barge.

He had often thought of that day, he used to tell the tale to his children as a bedtime story, Tilda begging him for more details about the Mam she had never met…

            "Is she at peace?" He asked, a fresh tear rolling down his cheek.

            The corners of her mouth lifted softly. "She is, my love. We both are."

And then, as if carried to him on the wind he heard Tilda’s voice. He closed his eyes and felt tears cascade from them as feather-light lips brushed his forehead.

            "I love you Da." He heard her say, and he squeezed his eyes tighter shut, as if doing so would sustain the dream.

            The voice of his beloved reached his ears once more. "One day, my love. One day you will follow us and we shall be together again, but for now you belong here."

He didn't open his eyes for a long time. Not even when her touch faded from his checks and Tilda's voice was nothing more than a distant echo.

 

Slowly he stood, relinquishing the illusion of his beloved dead to find his feet firmly with the living. Bard drew on his familiar coat; the coat his wife had made, the coat that had held Tilda after the fires...

He splashed water from a jug across his face before he stood ready at the heavy wooden doors, pressing his hands against them and pushing them open.

 

->>>―――――‒>

 

He found Bain sitting alone at a long table, an untouched bowl of porridge before him, his gaze unfocused upon the empty places along the table.

            Bain looked up in surprise as Bard entered the room “Da?”

            Bard walked over to Bain and pulled him into a tight embrace. “My son, can you forgive me for thinking that my grief belonged only to me? Can you forgive me for shutting you out when I should have held you tighter?"

            Bain nodded and buried his head in his father’s coat. “Always, Da.”

            Bard pressed a kiss to the top of his son’s head. "From now on we will get through this together.” Bard held him close for another moments before stepping backwards to look around the empty hall. "Where is Sigrid?”

            Bain looked mournfully at his father. “Most days she has been at the city walls, alone. But today she left before dawn, I think she went to where Tilda and Ma…” his voice broke as a sob escaped his lips.

            “You are allowed to cry for them,” Bard said softly as Bain's jaw quivered. “but know that even though we can no longer see or touch them they are here with us, always.”

            Bain sniffed. “I hear her sometimes; I walk around a corner and I think I can hear her voice or I look into a crowd and I think I see her.”

            Bard pulled his son again into an embrace. “Hold onto those memories Bain, even though they hurt, even when it feels like they are breaking your heart. They are all that the world has left of her and her memory should not be forgotten.”

            “I will never forget either of them Da, not for as long as I live.”

            “And we will rebuild Dale in their memory and honour, together.”

            Bain nodded and drew himself up, wiping away tears. “Then let’s get started.”

 

 ->>>―――――‒>

 

Bard and Bain walked together out into the light of soft winter sun, shielding their eyes from the sudden unfamiliar glare.

Calls of delight went up around the city as they walked along the streets and soon enough crowds flocked around them, eager to show their king the work they were putting into rebuilding Dale. Bard greeted them all as best he could, finding himself turned in one direction and then the other as they pointed out the different scars of Dale. He was pleasantly surprised with the progress that they had made without a guide and for a moment he worried if his role as king was to be a mere superfluous title. However those fears were assuaged every time he saw the expression on their faces as they caught sight of him and Bain for the first time; hope was rekindled.

 

Bard watched his son's eyes light up as they passed by the gathering of men who would become the new guard of Dale, so Bard bid him go and watch. Goodness knows there was precious little to light up the eyes of the young anymore.

 

Bard was winding his way towards the northern gates where the Orcs had breached the walls when a tall figure cloaked in grey and a tall pointed hat fell into step beside him.

            Bard looked up at the wizard and grimaced. “The last time you sought me out it was to tell me that an Orc army was almost upon us. Your presence now is not comforting.”

            The wizard huffed. “You ought to listen less to Thranduil, especially considering that the last time I came to you there was indeed an army of Orcs nearly upon you. But worry not for I bring formal tidings of peace from the Dwarves of Erebor and the Elves of the Woodland Realm.”

            Bard raised an eyebrow. “You were sent to give me this message?”

            “I would have thought that after battle tidings of peace would be welcome, especially by a King who is tasked with rebuilding a kingdom from the rubble.”

            “Indeed they are.” Bard sighed, coming to stop. The crowds had dispersed and he stood alone with the grey wizard in the winding roads of Dale. “But Gandalf we cannot build a city without material, or food stores. The rubble gives us stone for now but too much has crumbled and we have no other materials and the food will soon run short.”

            The wizard folded his arms. “Then I should have thought that the solution would be obvious, and in truth you have come to the reason why I came to bring such tidings myself; you must establish a trade agreement with the Dwarves and the Elves.”

            Bard made a noise of mistrust and the wizard huffed again in exasperation. “To speak of the stubbornness of Dwarves! You were prepared to go to war to claim those same goods but now that it might be gotten on terms of peace you would stand down?”

            “I cannot ask them to trade with me when I have nothing to offer!”

            “But you will.”

            Bard groaned and pulled a hand through his hair in frustration. “If only Lord Thrandril had warned me that wizards spoke in riddles!”

            “Do not give me such nonsense. You must make them believe in the future of Dale; the possibilities she holds. If Thranduil and Thorin can be made to see what Dale has to offer them then they will give you what you seek.”

Bard paused. He remembered the tales of Dale from his father; how the dwarves had sent away their stones to the trade city for them to be crafted and sold beyond the reach of Erebor.

            He turned to Gandalf “No King will give away his gold for a mere promise, least of all Erebor and the Woodland Realm. They will want something now return.”

            “Which is why you must propose a peace treaty between your three kingdoms; an alliance of protection proclaiming that should there ever come a day when evil knocks again at your door that you will stand together once more to smite it. The Dwarves and Elves will not underestimate the worth of an alliance, especially in these times.”

            Bard nodded in thoughtful acclimation. “And when is this meeting to be held?”

            The wizard looked nonchalantly towards the sun. “By my reckoning the representatives from Erebor and the Woodland Realm will gather on the battlefield in an hour. That should give you enough time to adorn yourself like the king you are, coronation or not.”

            Bard raised an eyebrow, amused. “How did you know I would agree?”

            “Because you have more sense than to allow pride to be your downfall, and you have lost too much to want to risk the safety of your people." He looked at the new King of Dale and consolation passed between the two without words. Bard felt the intangible strength and comfort the wizard exuded and although he knew little of the ways of wizards he knew this was a manner of magic, wizard or not.

            "Now I must be off," Gandalf said, adjusting his grey cloak "I have a long road to travel. If we do not meet again I wish you well, although there is no doubt in my mind that Dale shall flourish under your guidance.” And with that he inclined his hat in friendship before turning to stride towards a small figure leading a pony in the distance.

 

Bard watched the wizard and the hobbit leave before turning to make his way back to the Keep in search of clothes befitting the role we was about to take on.

 

 ->>>―――――‒>

 

Bard entered the grand tent that had been erected upon the battlefields between Dale and Erebor, dressed in the freshly dusted cloaks and furs of his ancestors, a simple crown inlayed with emerald stones resting atop his head.

Already in the tent stood Thorin Oakenshield, his golden haired nephew Fíli, and the oldest of their original company; Balin. Thorin inclined his head towards Bard, a friendly greeting considering that the last time they had spoken had been to pronounce war upon the other. Bard noticed that Thorin, although pale, stood firmly with his kin, an image of the might of the Dwarven Kings of old.

            Balin stepped forwards to clasp Bard’s hands in his own. “Our deepest condolences on the loss of your daughter, my Lord.” The unexpected words were a like fresh blow, stealing the breath for a moment.

            “Thank you Master Balin.” He said thickly.

 

The delegation from Erebor had agreed, at the insistence of Fíli, that quite apart from offering their genuine condolences they would needed to gage the animosity their new neighbour might harbour towards them for their part in bringing about the death of his people and beloved daughter.

Balin shared a meaningful look with Fíli as he stepped backwards and the younger dwarf seemed to relax slightly, however all of this went unnoticed by the others as Thranduil chose that moment to sweep into the tent.

 

The Elvenking was dressed in lavish robes of gold embossed with leaves of shimmering white, a magnificently ostentatious crown atop his head.

            “And here I thought he would bring the Elk in the tent with him.” Bard heard Thorin mutter darkly to his nephew who bit his lip to suppress a grin.

            Thranduil either did not hear the jibe or chose to ignore it because he focused his attention first upon Bard. “Dragon slayer.” He inclined his head, and there was an almost imperceptible searching look in his grey eyes.

            Bard inclined his own head. “My Lord Thranduil, your son is not here with you?” he asked, adopting the Elvenking’s own formal tone.

        Thranduil seemed to take Bard’s measure to be steady for he responded; “Legolas has set off to claim his own path, and I thought it best that he avoided coming into contact with your oldest daughter again.”

            Bard blanched and behind him Balin reached out a hand to stay Fíli who had had made as if to step forwards. “My daughter?” Bard managed.

            Thrandril noticed the movement amongst the two Dwarves although Bard and Thorin did not, he raised an eyebrow. “Let us hope that your own negotiating skills do not involve an arrow pointed at my son.” He said before sweeping towards Thorin to exchange a terse greeting.

Bard was left speechless. What had Sigrid done and what else might she have done? As soon as this was over he had to find her.

            Balin noticed Bard’s distress and stepped towards him to whisper. “He is testing you; he believes that if he can undercut you now before we begin that he will get the better bargain. Do not let his words trouble you.”

Bard nodded but it did not assuage the worry in his heart for there had been no lie in Thranduil’s words.

 

When they had settled in chairs around the circular table at the centre of the tent each seemed to wait for the other to speak first. It was a very pregnant and terse silence.

            Finally it was broken by Balin. “On behalf of the Dwarves of Erebor we would look to this meeting in the spirit of forgiveness from all parties.”

            Thranduil interrupted. “I see no reason that I should seek forgiveness. I have only sought to reclaim what was already mine and then sacrificed the lives of my people in defence of your mountain.” He sat backwards as Thorin seemed to swell with rage.

            “You would not seek forgiveness for imprisoning my kin and then waging war upon us as we tried to reclaim and defend what was rightfully ours, the same motivation that you claim to have guided you own blameless actions?”

            “I would not.” Thranduil said with smug simplicity. “I was not motivated by a lust for treasure.”

            “Enough!” Bard yelled as Thorin and Fíli made to leap up from their chairs. “How can we attempt to move forwards when you cannot let go of the past? Either the two of you forgive each other or else Dale walks away from this agreement now.”

            Nobody moved except Thranduil who raised an eyebrow. “Curious, you are in no position to walk away from a trade agreement, and yet you would threaten to?”

            Bard swallowed. “That is true, Dale has very little to offer right now. However what we do have is potential and the Kingdoms of Erebor and the Woodland Realm will not be the only ones to notice. As word travels that the Kingdom of Dale is being made anew many will seek to realign themselves with her through alliances and offers of trade.” He stood up from his chair and lent over the table, looking to where the Dwarves and Elvenking sat in silence. “Let no more suffering be done by the hands of kings who put themselves before their people. We united against a common enemy on the battlefields; can we not do it again for the sake of peace?”

He waited nervously, watching the dwarves look between each other as feeling the piercing eyes of the Elvenking upon him. Perhaps they would call his bluff; there was no guarantee that Dale would receive other offers to trade. What if he had again doomed others to die by his decisions?

            Fíli stood and Bard admired him for withstanding his uncle’s obvious reluctance. “Erebor will seek peace between Dwarves, Elves, and Men.” Fíli pronounced. “As heir to Thorin Oakenshield and Erebor I will vow to bind our kingdoms together in forgiveness and for protection, whatever the Dwarves of Erebor can do to prevent the suffering of the innocent we will see it done.”

Bard gave him a grateful smile before turning to the Elvenking.

            “In the spirit of creating a stronger union, the Woodland Realm will agree to seek forgiveness for the offences it has been perceived to have inflicted.” Thranduil sighed.

Bard supposed it would be too much to ask for either to openly ask for forgiveness from the other but perhaps this union would encourage the notion in the future.

            Balin rubbed his hands together. “Well then, bound by forgiveness, friendship, and faith in a prosperous future we will endeavour to create an alliance between our three Kingdoms. Perhaps Dale ought to begin the negotiations?” He inclined his head again to Bard.

Bard swallowed again. He would have given anything in this moment to have his family there with him.

Fíli watched the King before him and thought how like Sigrid he was; determined and strong. He caught Bard’s eye and gave him a small nod, hoping to convey reassuring solidarity in the motion.

Again Bard found himself grateful for Fíli’s presence and he supposed the young dwarf prince could relate to the sudden position of responsibility that Bard found himself in. He cleared his throat and began to lay out what Dale would need to rebuild; gold and metals from Erebor and food other building materials from the Woodland Realm.

 

They bartered for a good part of the day. Both Mirkwood and Erebor were reluctant to allow the other protection on their lands and dissolution was only narrowly avoided by Fíli’s suggestion of the creation of a specialised liaison between the armies. At Thranduil retort that there could be none who would represent each in equal measure Fíli looked hesitantly towards his uncle and then the Elvenking before he spoke.

            “Tauriel. She is an elf and former Captain of the Woodland Guard and bound to the Dwarves of Erebor.” He turned to Bard. “If you Bard see no objection then I can think of none better nor more suited for the position.”

Bard remembered that name. Tilda’s eager voice echoed in his mind, telling him the tale of how an elf named Tauriel and the Elvenking’s son Legolas had saved them from the Orc attack at Laketown. Steeling himself back to the present Bard nodded in assent and so it was recorded by Balin.

         

                “In the destruction of Laketown the Woodland Realm lost a much valued trade partner, can Dale offer us the same goods that we have lost?” Thranduil questioned.

            “No, we cannot.” Bard acknowledged. “That is why I propose that we rebuild not only Dale but Esgorath also. If we can redevelop the Lake as a trade route and as a fishing resource then with the assistance of your gold we can open our union up to trade from other kingdoms.”

            Thranduil nodded. “See to it that Dorwinion trade is re-established and then the Woodland Realm will see Laketown rebuilt, provided of course that the price of our trade is overlooked in fair repayment for the first ten years.”

There was dispute over the precise duration of time and when Erebor offered to invest in the rebuilding of Laketown for the price of its fish, Thranduil reluctantly revised his offer and plans for the rebuilding of Esgaroth were set into motion.

 

When finally it seemed that there were no more deals to be struck and no more trade arrangements to be made Thranduil stood. He inclined his head towards the King of Dale, a newfound respect for the man beyond that of their prior military alliance.

            “Lord Bard, I shall begin the arrangements to have the agreed upon food and materials brought to Dale at once.” He said before turning to Thorin. “I will be returning to reclaim the treasures of my people five days hence.” He said before inclining his head curtly and sweeping out of the tent.

            “Elves.” Thorin muttered darkly before seating himself down with as little a hint of pain as he could muster.

            Bard smirked. “Neither of you are adept as disguising your contempt however the attempt is appreciated.”

            “Considering that the only other times that they have tried to negotiate they either got our company imprisoned for life or started a war, I would say that today was an improvement on both sides.” Balin remarked and Bard felt himself truly smile for the first time since Tilda…

 

While Balin and Thorin spoke of Elves Fíli noticed Bard overcome in a moment of painful memories and his heart ached as he was reminded of the pain he could not ease for Sigrid. He waited until Bard had composed himself again, not wanting to intrude, before he walked up to the man.

            “I just wanted to say how truly sorry I was to hear of Tilda’s passing. She was a beautiful and fierce spirit and even in our short time knowing her she had a place in the hearts of The Company of Thorin Oakenshield.”

            Bard was taken aback, but then, he remembered, while he had bene imprisoned by the Master a number of the dwarves had been with his family, protected them from the Orc attack when again he had not been there.

            He looked to the dwarf before him and was about to thank him when he caught sight of a flash of red feathers at his throat. He stepped forward. “What is that?” He asked, although he knew very well what it was, he recognised all too well the arrows he had given Bain, the arrows engraved with the sigil of Dale and of Girion.

            Fíli looked confused. “This arrow saved my life, My Lord. I was held in Azog’s clutches atop Ravenhill staring my death in the face when out of nowhere it struck Azog and saved my life.” He lifted it from his chest to run his fingers along the feathers. “I have been searching in vain for the archer these past days but with no luck.” He looked up eagerly at Bard. “Do you know who shot the arrow?”

            Bard did not know what to feel, all he knew was a confusion of heated emotions that roared up inside of him, and one pure fact; “Yes, I know who shot that arrow.” He said darkly and with that he turned and stormed out of the tent to find his son, leaving a confused Fíli behind him.

 

 

Chapter Text

"Be safe, keep them safe."

Those were the words Bard had whispered for his son's ears only the night he bid his children to flee from the dawning battle. But they had not gone to safety, instead Bain had lead his sisters to Ravenhill and directly into peril.

“Keep them safe."

 He strode through the gates of Dale his regal robes billowing around him in the celerity of his stride, impervious to others around him and their calls of greeting fell upon deaf ears. Anger and confusion; Bard's mind was but a boat caught up in the fury of these tempests.

Why had Bain done it? What had possessed him to abandon sense and chase after danger with his sisters in tow? But far greater than the confusion was the crushing knowledge that Bain had lied to him and broken his word.

Weaving his way through the almost familiar passageways Bard came upon the City Square in no time and for a moment he was struck with the vitality it exuded, only days ago it might have been mistaken as a city of the dead. The men where organised across the Square, those at the center performing drills with swords and spears while others lined the outskirts waiting to be fitted for the resurrected uniform of the Guard of Dale. Bard's eyes roamed over the arrangement of men both young and old who brandished the contents of Dale’s armoury in their hands. How strange it was that they should be so eager to take up the instruments of death when they were so intimately familiar with its pain. But then, he supposed, perhaps to be accustomed to such pain was to be bound to prevent its reoccurrence by all measure necessary.

Then he spotted Bain, his young eyes gleaming with excitement as he spoke animatedly to those around him, waiting eagerly for his turn to have his chest measured for the guard’s uniform.

Was this why Bain had done it; to chase danger and death for the glory of battle? Men like that were indeed brave, but, and the thought rose like bile in Bard's throat, men like that endangered all those around them and worse still men like that did not live long enough to see their hair turn grey.

Bard strode forwards again and the crowds parted as Bard cut a regal figure through them towards his son.

 

Bain looked up to see why those around him had suddenly ceased their actions and saw his father as he had never seen him before; dressed in fine regal robes and furs with a crown atop his head. Bain had always thought that his Da wore a crown, not a literal one but one that shone through his eyes, speaking of great dignity and strength. In Bain’s mind his Da did not need regalia to appear as a King but never the less the image of him dressed so brought a sense of great pride and satisfaction. He opened his mouth to hail his father but upon catching sight of his Da’s face the words died on the tip of his tongue.

      Bard stood before his son and the tone of his voice would have withered the hardiest of shrubs. “Why did you do it, Bain?”

      "Da, I don't-" Bain began, confused.

      “You disobeyed me! I know that you did not go to safety as I asked, you went to Ravenhill to fight and I know that you took your sisters with you.” Bard had not intended to shout but the words exploded from his mouth out of bitter disappointment, and like the arrow once cast the words could not be withdrawn once spoken.

All those in the vicinity ceased their activity and turned towards the commotion.

Bain could not look his father in the eye, he would not speak to his defence when he felt that in truth he might as well have been guilty of what he was accused.

      Bard drew a measured breath and calmed himself; anger would only do more harm than good. Instead he steeled himself to ask the question of which he dreaded the answer. “That's where Tilda was attacked wasn’t it; while you were up on Ravenhill?”

      Bain’s voice shook and still he did not meet Bard’s eye. "Yes, Da."

Bard sighed "Why did you do it, son; why did you disobey me?" and it was if the words were weighted with all the anguish of recent days.

You could have heard the wind whistle through the city such was the silence that had befallen the Square.

      With great resolve and much effort Bain lifted his head so he could meet his father’s eyes. He could not bear to lie to him or have his Da think so badly of him, no matter if he deserved it or not. "We could not run and hide while others gave their lives, not after all that we had faced together. Sigrid and Tilda felt the same way or else I would never have gone along with it. But I swear to you Da that I did not break my promise; I never stopped trying to protect them; I did not shoot the arrow on Ravenhill."

      Bard looked at his son in confusion. “Bain, the arrow that struck the Pale Orc was decorated with the sigil of our ancestors, they were one of kind and I gave them all to you.”

      “But it was not I who shot it.” Bain insisted earnestly.

Since Tilda had died there had been few things that gave Bard comfort, but he was relieved to know that, as small a treasure as it was, he could still find and recognise honesty in his son’s face.

            “Who shot the arrow then?” Bard asked quietly.

      Bain shook his head firmly, feeling as if his heart was being torn into two; one part loyal to the promise he made Sigrid and the other to his Father. “Da, I can’t tell you that, please don’t ask me to break my word.”

      “Bain,” Bard stepped forwards. “Who shot the arrow?”

      “I did Da.” Sigrid’s voice rang out clearly across the Square from behind him.

Bard closed his eyes for a moment, wishing her voice to have been an illusion before turning to face his daughter.

Sigrid stood defiantly across the square rom them, her skirts were a mess and her hair unkempt but her eyes were fierce and her mouth set determinedly, just like her mother.

 

      As Sigrid stepped crossed the Square she did not try to hide the slight shake in her hands for all the determination of her voice; she was tired of hiding fear as if it were weakness. “I encouraged that we go to Ravenhill rather than into the woods, I left Bain and Tilda in a cave, and I was the one who shot the Pale Orc, not Bain.” With a small, grateful smile to Bain she stepped between her Da and her brother. “If you have blame to place then it belongs with me.”

      "Sigrid?" Bard paled. No, it couldn’t be. Sigrid couldn’t have been the archer. Sigrid was responsible; she had spent her life caring for her siblings. She could not have drawn them into danger. And yet, there she stood, proclaiming that it had been her.

Bard’s legs were a dead weight, he could not think, and meanwhile all around him whispers flared. People spoke behind their hands, some looking in awe and others in blatant disapproval at the fierce girl before them.

Sigrid felt their eyes on her, felt them scour her every inch with incredulity, she heard their disbelieving mutters and an uncomfortable heat rose in her neck but still she did not look away from her Da. She would not stand by as Bain took the blame and what was more; her Da needed to know the truth and she needed him to know it from her own mouth. She lifted her chin and swallowed, trying to ignore the watchers.

      A strangled noise escaped Bard's mouth before he managed to shape it into a coherent word. "Why?" He managed.

      Sigrid wrung her hands. "How can you not know why? You are my Da and I am your daughter, did you truly believe that we could flee like cowards while others gave their lives? We could not leave you! But as soon as we realized that Ravenhill was about to be overrun we made for the hills, for safety."

      "But you chased after the Orcs, you shot the Pale Orc. On the tower"

      Sigrid looked at him in anguish. "It was a trap! I watched Fíli and his kin ride towards that tower and I knew that it would be their doom. Of course I had to follow them; I could not stand by and do nothing!"

      "But you left Bain and Tilda alone!" Bard all but yelled.

The words hit Sigrid with the force of an Orc battering ram, knocking the wind from her so that she gasped. In her own voice these words had tormented her mind, but to hear them spoken aloud and by her beloved Da... That was an altogether harsher pain.

But something changed at hearing the words spoken aloud; a spirit once dowsed now flared in revival within and when Sigrid opened her mouth to speak again her anger was more to the tormentor in her head than to her Da before her.

      “I left them alone only because I thought they were safe. I left them alone because I could not bear it anymore for my life to be at the mercy of fate and chance. I made a choice exactly the same as yours; to protect those I love. But I might not have had to make such a choice if you had not sent us away!”

      “I was trying to protect you!” Bard cried out.

      Sigrid looked at her Da and at the anguish in his eyes she felt her anger give way to misery. "I know that, Da, and I love you for it. But by sending us away you took away my ability to protect one I loved, so I took it back.”

      Bard could see in the sorrow of her eyes that she did not blame him and he sighed. "You cannot ever think that I will regret my decision or ever think that I would allow you to walk headlong into danger. I am you father and it is my job to protect you from harm, no matter what."

      "And to teach me to defend those I love in turn.” Sigrid stepped forwards.  “You taught me that, the same day you taught me to shoot an arrow and so that is what I did. I'm sorry for disobeying you and I'm sorry for putting Tilda and Bain in danger but I could not live with myself if I did not act. Only now do I realise the cruel joke that I lost one part to my heart for protecting another."

The courtyard was silent, the people looking from Bard to his daughter in confusion. Although many had guessed from their words at the events on Ravenhill that fateful day, exactly who Sigrid was referring to was a matter of confusion.

This detail did not seem to concern Bard who beheld his daughter with a mix of pride and bitter sorrow. She was right; she had done exactly as he had. She had not knowingly put her siblings in danger; it had not been a reckless act in pursuit of glory as he had feared. Sigrid had been put in a position where instead of being helpless in the face of oncoming death she had gathered her courage and done what others might not have dared to do for the sake of love.

      Sigrid waited for her Da to speak, desperately needing him to say the words she knew were coming but he did not and so she did, if to throw them from herself or to claim them for eternity she did not know but with unbridled tears spilling from her eyes she opened her mouth. "I know it's my fault; I know that if I had not done what I did then Tilda would-" she faltered. "Tilda would still be alive."

      "Oh my darling girl, never think that." Horrified, Bard wrapped his arms around his daughter as if to shield her from such a thought. "Tilda was killed by an evil that neither you nor I could prevent, not by a choice you made." Sigrid's body shook in his arms. "I know that you cannot see it now but you did not sacrifice Tilda; you made a choice to save the lives of others, not to allow your sister to be killed. I do not blame you and you cannot blame yourself."

It would take something else before Sigrid would ever truly believe that she had not played a role in Tilda's death, maybe even a lifetime, but standing there wrapped in her Da's arms she began to accept it, and in time this would make all the difference.

Bard extended his arm so as to draw Bain into the embrace of what remained of their broken family. But all those in the Square would have sworn, although they did not speak of it, that the spirits of Tilda and her Mam were there that day and that somehow, in that moment, the living seemed whole once more.

      Bard pulled his head back to look his son in the eye. "Bain, I should have known that you would not break your oath to me, and I should not have doubted where your heart lay nor the man you have become. I'm sorry." He turned to look at Sigrid. "My girl, you have become a young woman of far greater strength than I could ever have imagined. But I will never stop trying to protect you because you are my daughter. Only now I see that you need to be able to defend your own heart and protect those you love and that I must let you." The word of his wife came back to him and he smiled softly at her memory as he held his living children. "You mother once told me that the true joy of living is in living with others and allowing them to be a part of us and she was right. We need to start talking to each other again, sharing our grief and our joys together instead of hiding them inside ourselves.”

Bain nodded and said something comforting to his Da that Sigrid didn't quite catch. Her mind had heard the words of her mother and followed her heart to Fíli; the one who had read the darkest corners of her soul and still wanted to know more. She needed to find him and hope that she hadn’t pushed him too far away; that he would come back to her.

      "Da," she said, lifting her head. "I need to go, there's someone I need to find."

      Bard nodded. "But when you are done we need to have a talk about aiming arrows at Elven princes." Sigrid swallowed but there was a slight smirk to his words. But as Bard said it the true meaning of the love that Sigrid had spoken of protecting dawned on him and he frowned slightly. "Yes, I think you do have a lot of explaining to do about Princes in general."

Sigrid felt a heat creep up her neck but she did not try to hide it; gone were the days of hiding her heart.

      Bard looked over her head and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder to turn her about. "I don't think that you will need to search far to find the one you are looking for."

Sigrid turned and her eyes fell immediately upon a figure almost lost in the crowd but a figure she would recognize anywhere; Fíli.

Those around him realized that he was the destination of Sigrid's gaze and stepped aside as if to reveal him to her.

Sigrid searched his face; how much he heard, how much did he know? Did he know she had been the archer on Ravenhill, that her presence had not been an illusion? Had he heard her confess the reason why she had shot the Orc, the true reason why she could not have lived if she had not gone to warn him and his kin about the attack?

But Fíli's face was unreadable and Sigrid walked towards him with a mixture of determination and trepidation for surely all would soon be revealed but she did not know how he would respond.

Chapter Text

Fíli didn’t want to breathe for if he did the illusion he found himself in might shatter. But this was no illusion nor was it a vision conjured from his dreams; this was real and she was real. Sigrid had been the archer on Ravenhill, and better yet; she loved him.

Hidden within the shrouds of the crowd he listened to her voice and felt a blissful, weightless euphoria spread throughout his body as she spoke the words that gave wings to his dreams. He opened his mouth to call out to her; to announce his presence, to sweep her up into his arms and pledge his soul to hers forevermore. In that moment he felt as if he could touch the future he had envisioned at Thorin tale; the two of them living their lives side by side, happy and content, surrounded by family… and just like that, a different illusion was shattered and the words he had been about to call out to her died on his lips.

Suddenly there was a murmur amongst the crowd, heads swivelled in his direction and at some cue Fíli had missed the people of Dale seemed to shuffle aside. He found his place amongst them abruptly revealed until there he stood before Sigrid, his mind an abyss.

Sigrid felt as if each step towards Fíli spanned an age; she could hear the echo of each footfall on the dusty stone, could sense the anticipation of the crowd. Before the fires and the war an audience might have made her shrink away, but Sigrid was not the same girl she had once been, and so she fixed her eyes of Fíli and blocked out the rest of the world until finally she stood before him. And although there were a million things she needed to say and a thousand feelings she needed him to know, she had no idea where to begin. Still, his face remained undiscernible and void of the furious battle waging itself within, but then again, he had had many years to practice.

            “Do you want to go for a walk?” She asked softly as her heart was beating raucously within her chest.

Fíli nodded slowly and Sigrid gratefully led them away from the disappointed crowds; this was not a conversation that either of them wanted to have under scrutiny.

Sigrid led them through passageways and around bends, not quite knowing where it was that she was headed but hoping that she would know when she found it. Hanging at her side her hands felt like useless weights and instinct bid her entwine them in his, but as sure as she was about the contents of her own heart, his was as yet unknown. But surely, she thought, he would not have agreed to come unless he had something of meaning to tell her?

They rounded another bend in the labyrinthine passageways of Dale and the remains of a grand water fountain came into view in the distance. It must have been the pride and joy of Dale before the desolation such was the intricate beauty of its design. At the centre of the fountain was a carven plinth and all around the plinth were carved the words and images of a tale one forgotten while atop it stood two stone figures, forever captured in the union of their embrace from which the water that had once sustained a city had flown. But now the fountain was baron and dry and a few of the survivors tinkered at its inner workings, oblivious to the presence of Sigrid and Fíli.

Half because this was as isolated as they had any hope of achieving without mutters of propriety and half because she couldn’t stand the anticipation any longer Sigrid halted and turned to face Fíli, feeling her breath catch in her throat as she did.

With each step Fíli had been trying to wrangle his thoughts, and while at some intervals it seemed that he could spin her around that very instant and spill his heart as she had hers, at others the weight of truth kept him silent. Fíli knew with certainty that Sigrid loved fiercely with all of her heart; he had seen it that day on the Lake. That love for her family had driven her to bury away pain until it had nearly scorched her from within. But Sigrid had lost forever a part of her family and although she had claimed that she had saved Fíli out of love, that love had not overcome the blame she clearly possessed for him for his role in Tilda’s death, and just as her love for her sister would never die so too he knew would the blame endure and destroy her very spirit if he remained in her life.

Sigrid waited with baited breath until finally it seemed that Fíli had decided what he wanted to say and he opened his mouth.

            “Thank you, for saving my life that day on Ravenhill.”

Sigrid brushed aside his thanks, not wanting to linger on memories of that day. She waited with baited breath, clearly he had heard enough to gather that she was the archer on Ravenhill, but the only knowledge she craved was to know was if he knew why she had done it.

            Fíli sighed. “I understand it all now, I know why you blame me; that day when you chose to come and save my life, that was when Tilda lost hers. Tilda died so that I could live.”

            Sigrid was taken aback. “Well… yes, but that’s not-” she made to protest but Fíli interrupted her before he could lose his conviction.

            “But it is.” And now he was fighting his every instinct, suppressing everything that told his to stop fighting, because Sigrid needed to hear this. “You have every right to blame me, you always have, ever since that night by the Lake; first for bringing the dragon upon your home and your people and then again for bringing war upon your family and destroying it in the process.”

            Sigrid felt a hollow growing dread in the pit of her stomach; the realisation that he was pushing her away just as she had that day atop the city wall. “But I don’t blame you.” She countered, silently begging him to see the truth of her words in her eyes. “Don’t you know why I did it?” she whispered, thinking that if only she let the last of her armour fall that he might too relinquish his.

Fíli knew exactly why she had done it, and that was why what he had to do hurt so much. He could give her a barrage of reasons for why they weren’t meant to be; the fact that he was a Dwarf and she was a Human, that he was the Thorin’s heir and had a responsibility to continue the Durin legacy, or that his life would surpass hers and that the swiftness of her own mortality would rob her of so many of the treasures of their children’s lives. But none of them compared to his true reason for denying the truth that her eyes sought to cleave from his heart. And although the thought threatened to sabotage his resolve, Fíli knew that to deny his feelings would leave her free to one day love another instead of being bound to a possibility of what could never be. He drew in a shuddering breath before responding, begging himself to believe that as much as this might hurt her now it was better for her in the long run.

            “You saved me because it was the right thing to do, and because you are an inherently good person who can’t watch others suffer.”

Sigrid let the words collide painfully with her but she would not let herself be fooled by their meaning, not when she could see the agonised omission in his eyes. She knew that look on him well; he had worn it beside the Lake. But for the life of her she could not think what selfless urge he might be fighting now that made him so determined to deny himself. But she would not relent until he let himself be unburdened of it, just as had happened at the lake, and so she stood her ground, stubbornly resolved that if he would not fight for himself then she would do it for him.

            “When we were on Ravenhill you asked me why I kept saving you, don’t you remember what I said?” she challenged, folding her arms.

Fíli blinked and it took him a moment to remember that when she had appeared to him after his fall she had not been a vision. He remembered the sound of her voice calling him back to earth, her hand as his cheek, her breath on his face…

            “You said it was because I showed you how to save yourself.” He breathed.

She nodded, stepping forwards to place her hand again against his check as if to remind him and Fíli cursed himself for instinctively closing his eyes and leaning into the familiar warmth of her touch.

            “and because I’m not ready to let you go.” She finished in a whisper.

He knew now that he had lost the fight to hide the truth of his affection and it was pointless to keep denying it. But if anything giving into those feeling only strengthened his resolve not to sacrifice her future happiness for his own selfish desires, and he knew now that had tell her the true reason why they could have no future, he owed her that much. He opened his eyes and gently reached to take the hand away from his check and clasp it in his own.

            “Sigrid,” He looked into her face and steeled himself to break the heart of the one he loved, and so his own heart. “We might have a few years of happiness but no matter how you feel for me now, you will slowly begin to resent me.” Sigrid let out a noise of descent but he ploughed on. “Your love your sister will never dim and as more time goes by and the yearning grows you will realize what a poor exchange you made, and then, rightly so, you will come to despise me for it. You can’t see it now but slowly, bit by bit, it will eat away at you from within and I cannot stand by while you destroy yourself for me.”

Fíli hated himself for being the cause of her tears and he wanted so desperately to wipe them away but he knew that it would only do her more harm than good and so he watched them fall, feeling his heart breaking from within the cage of his chest.

Sigrid brushed furiously at the tears that had begun to fall unbidden from her eyes and felt an anger grow within her, anger at him for what he said now, and anger at herself for words that had already passed and could not be retrieved.

            “But I don’t blame you!” she cried out, not caring if her voice carried over to where the group survivors worked on the fountain. “What I said at the City Wall; I said to myself, not to you! I did make a choice at Ravenhill and maybe for a moment, just for one moment when I couldn’t breathe because it was all too much, maybe then I saw it as a sacrifice but not anymore.” It was strange maybe that in fighting for him she was able to free herself from the words that had tormented her mind. She knew that the scars from their shackles would linger but in that moment, beyond the anger, she wanted to laugh at the joy of having shaken them off and then to cry at the exquisite tragedy that the bond she shared with Fíli was built on shared scars.

            “Sigrid-” Fíli tried to placate her but Sigrid would not be stopped.

            “No! Don’t you try to tell me that I will be better off without you because we both know that’s a lie, and it’s not for you to decide. I get to choose my fate and I chose you! I know how I feel when I’m with you; I know that I don’t feel so alone anymore, and I know that somehow, in all this chaos and pain, that you and I were meant to find each other, and I know that you feel it too. But what I don’t know is why you won’t let yourself be happy.” Sigrid balled her fists up and thumped them against his chest, biting back angry sobs. “Why do you have to be such a martyr?”

            Fíli felt his own blood begin to boil; couldn’t she see that what he was trying to do would only save them from heartache in the future? “I’m no more a martyr than you are!” he burst out. “Why can’t you see that this is best for both of us?”

            “Because it’s not.” Sigrid said stubbornly and part of him wanted to laugh at her petulance but he had to hold his ground and it was hard enough to fight his own instincts when she fought alongside them

            “Well it is.” In anguish he pulled his fingers roughly though his tangles of hair. “Even if it is not blame that turns your heart then it will be regret. Sigrid, I don’t want to fight you anymore. For selfish reason or for selfless reasons we would only destroy each other. We’re already doing it now.” And there was such resigned sadness in his voice as the future he feared began to materialise before his eyes.

Sigrid knew that he was lying but that wasn’t what made her give in. It was that he could keep fighting despite everything; that he could want so strongly not to love her, not to open himself up to the possibly of what they might be; that was what finally made her stop protesting.

            “You truly believe that my heart can be so easily turned.” Sigrid said, so sadly and laced with such resignation that it tore at his insides.

             “Only by virtue of its capacity to love.”

 

Neither of them spoke, each loving the other more for all that they would not let it show, and yet bitterly hating each other in the same breath. The silence stretched between them, filled with all that had been said and so much more that had not. It draped them like a fog until finally Fíli broke it, casting feebly about for anything, anything but what needed to be said.

            “Why do they work to fix that fountain, are there not more necessary things that need to be mended?” But for all his years of masking emotion Sigrid saw right through him, as she always had, and her response was withering.

            “That fountain helps run the water supply of Dale; if it doesn’t run then we have to fetch water from the river, so yes, it is crucial.”

Fíli nodded, not meeting her eyes. He needed to end this now, to leave her behind before he definitely did more harm than good, but he didn’t know how to say goodbye. So he took the weak option and said nothing, bowing deeply to her and with one last look that he vowed to cherish forevermore, Fíli tore himself away and began to make his way back home, a home that could now never house his heart.

Sigrid turned away furiously fighting back bitter tears, hating him for only seeing what might stand between them.

And so they both walked away, Fíli towards the north and Sigrid to the south.

 

Then a shout came, not from either Fíli or Sigrid but from the men who had been working at the fountain in the distance. Finally, after so many years of being barren it began to fill with cool clear liquid, jets began to gush from the mouths of the figures and the workers danced beneath the streams, laughing and splashing each other as the grime of soot, dust, and ash were washed away.

Fíli turned at the sounds and as he did the broken arrow he wore as a talisman swung and fell heavily against his chest. He reached up to catch it and as his fingers brushed the crimson feathers he was reminded of what it had meant; not only a second chance at life for him and his kin, but also the knowledge of what he wanted from such a life. And even though he hadn’t known it had been she who had shot the arrow, everything had always come back to Sigrid. Suddenly he wondered what he was doing with his second chance. He had gone on a quest to reclaim a homeland but now, when all that stood before him in the heart of another he had turned away. He had stood within halls filled with all manner of riches and yet none of it compared to the treasure of loving her and being loved by her in return, but still he was walking away. Why; why when life had proved time and time again that it was so brutally short was he prepared to live a life of mere existence without her? What was the point in giving up the fight for hope before he had begun? Of course this didn’t make his worries any less valid, all I meant was that they would have to brave more uncertain paths in the future, but why should that mean that the path shouldn’t be taken? That was what she had been saying; not that these obstacles didn’t matter but that they would be worth it. He felt hope glow within him, the same hope he had found in the memory of her spirit in the days after they had reclaimed Erebor when all hope seemed forgotten. So when she turned to face him all the reasons he had for denying his love seemed insignificant and once again he found himself falling for her eyes, dropping all his masks and walls, just as he had done every time she pierced his soul.

At once he began to stride urgently towards her and Sigrid met him halfway.

            Fíli spoke first. "There's something I have to tell you."

Sigrid made to open her mouth but Fíli put a gentle finger to her lips and rushed to speak before she could rebuff him.

            "Sigrid," he said, his voice shaking with long suppressed emotion. "I’ve been a fool. I was terrified that what we share would be poisoned by loss; I thought that the same pain and love that brought us together would only tear us apart. But I see now that we can take it; the good and the bad, we can endure it all because we would have it together! I'm not saying that your grief is over or that I could ever replace what you have lost, but I will pledge my life to help you carry it as you do mine. And I’m sorry that I forgot that. I’m sorry I forgot that you are stronger than I will ever be. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you and I don't just mean because of what you did at Ravenhill. You stood before me that night at the Lake and your courage and strength inspired me, and at the time I couldn't understand where that came from, only that with something greater than I could ever hope to understand that I needed it; that I needed you. It wasn't until the world had stolen nearly everything away from you that I truly understood that it was all from you; that it was all utterly you and I loved you all the more for that strength, so much so that it became my own. Sigrid, I know that I have done nothing but give your reasons to doubt when all you have ever done is give me reasons to hope but,” and he held up the arrow at his chest. “the archer who shot this arrow is my match in every way, please say I haven't lost her?"

Sigrid gently took the finger that still lingered at her mouth and held his hand tightly in hers, pressing them together over his chest where they could feel the frantic bearing of his heart.  

            "You will never lose me.” She whispered. “That night at the lake you found me; you made me pull down barriers and open myself up to the all the world's pain because you showed me the promise of its joy, you inspired me. And you know what, that would have been enough because in that moment you had my heart, but you didn't stop there. You ignited my soul; made it burn with love and grief and so much hope; hope that everything would be okay, that even when all seemed lost that there was something good worth fighting for. And I guess I wanted to say that it was all me; to say that I'm enough to sustain me. But that wouldn't be the whole truth and I can admit that now because I don't want just enough. Maybe some people are fine with enough, but I'm not. And you know what, and I think that's strength in itself; to want something better and to put all your hope on the line and just go for it.” Sigrid drew a deep breath and looked into his eyes. “I love you Fíli, with all my heart I love you and I’m in love with you. I don't care about the rest of it; I don’t care about what the future might hold because with you I won’t be facing it alone. And I know I haven’t known you for very long, but even then I already know that to spend my forever with you would be more than enough."

He reached up to run his free hand through her hair and with hers she caught it there so that they stood with one hand over his heart and the other at her cheek.

And finally, when there was truly nothing standing in their way and nothing more to be said they closed the distance between their lips and so between their souls, and just like that the air between them seems to explode.

As he captured her mouth in his Sigrid felt an intoxicating warmth glow within her and it hurt in an exquisite way. As if all her longings, all her dreams, all her anguish, and all the secrets torments she kept coiled beneath her bones were awakened and enchanted by his touch. Her chest rose and fell in rhythm with his and she pulled him closer, feeling the beat of his heart match her own in this perfect unity that was all their own.

As Fíli’s hands caressed her face the rest of the world seemed to fall away and all that anchored him to the earth was the touch of her lips against his. The taste of her joy, her pain, her spirit mingled with his and danced across their tongues. His hand moved to the nape of her neck and pulled her gently but urgently into him, and he knew that he had always been searching for her.

They stayed like that for a very long time, only separating to gasp for air and even then their foreheads never parted. It was in those moments of in-between; when the need for more battled against the very instinct to breathe and when the intensity of what passed between them without words or touch could be felt in the air, that was when they both came to realize that all the pointless suffering had guided them to this moment, and yet, somehow it was still only their beginning.

 

Somewhere in the distance the Fountain of Dale filled with the water from the Long Lake, the same lake they had stood beside what seemed like a lifetime ago. Once again what had been burned by fire was soothed, and even though the water held no cure for the flames, it was enough that in the moments of its touch the pain began to diminish and life could go on.

Chapter Text

10 Years later.

 

Her mind was awash with memories; memories that lilted in and out of focus like the gentle ebb and flow of waves. They rolled languidly over her, warm and pleasant in their touch. But then out of the blue a laugh echoed in the distance, a laugh so familiar that it seemed to stretch out its ghostly hand towards her. Evanescent fingers stretching, reaching…

Sigrid tried to turn, tried to catch the hand that belonged to the voice, the voice that sung to the very blood in her heart… but it slipped away on the wind.

Now she was running, chasing the voice that called through the pressing darkness, drawing her in, closer and closer. A fork; two paths. She chose one and ran.

The voice was louder now and Sigrid could discern the angry words. Why did you leave me, Sigrid? Why? Why! Sigrid tried to open her mouth but her jaw was an anchor too heavy to move. But she needed to tell her; she had to let her know. The voice was slipping away, moving further along the passage.

Wait! She tried to yell. Wait for me. Please, please don’t leave! But the air was futile in her throat. Sigrid stumbled along the passageway, the suffocating cold chilling her to the bone. She had to get to Tilda.

Why! Why! Why! The words echoed around her, each a hammer pounding against her skull from within.

A glowing light appeared around the corner; had she found Tilda at last? Hurtling around the rock face Sigrid found herself in a cave, a cave with a single figure standing at its centre, head bowed. Sigrid ran, reaching Tilda just in time to catch her frail body as she crumpled to the ground, a hand clutching her stomach, a crimson stain blooming beneath pale fingers, and all the while a steady drip, drip, drip echoed off the cave walls.

Tilda! Sigrid pressed her shaking hands to the wound, trying to stop the life from leaving Tilda’s body, but its unnatural warmth only coated her hands, weighing them down.

Tilda looked up at her, eyes round with fright as she took a shuddering breath. Why did you leave me, Sigrid? She asked. Then her eyes fluttered shut and she moved no more, and yet the words kept echoing. Why, Sigrid? Why did you leave me?

Sigrid pulled Tilda’s body tighter to her chest, rocking backwards and forwards on the cold cave floor. No, No, No! Tilda, Please, come back to me. But the voice kept going and the blood kept dripping.  Why did you leave me, Sigrid? Why? Why, Sigrid?

            “Sigrid!”

Another voice called to her, a different voice; a voice that didn’t belong.

Why, Sigrid? Why? She couldn’t escape it; it pounded relentlessly against her head. Why? Why? Why?

            “My love, wake up!”

She knew this voice; this voice was warmth, solace, love… She needed to find her way back to him, but she couldn’t escape the drip, drip, drip. Why? Why? Why?

            “Sigrid!”

Living hands shook her and suddenly she was wrenched from the dream and her eyes snapped open. Sigrid’s breath come in short gasps as she staring up at the canopy above her head. She was lying in the twisted sheets of their bed, cold sweat drenching her back, and her throat raw from the screams that had escaped from her dreams. She drew a slow shaking breath, trying to ground her wild thoughts and slow her frantic heart. This was real, she was awake. Tilda was- Tilda wasn’t here. It had been another dream, just a dream.

            Fíli was sitting up beside her, his face pinched with concern as he reached out a tender hand. “Sigrid?” he asked softly. “What do you need me to do?”

            Sigrid turned over to face him, warm tears brimming in her eyes. “Just- just hold me.” She whispered.

Fíli took her into his arms as she buried the sobs she had been fighting into his chest. He ran a hand over her hair feeling utterly helpless; forced to acknowledge that he could never truly keep her pain at bay, and so he held her all the tighter for it. Her heart against his chest, his lips pressed to her head as he whispered soothing words until her body no longer shook.

He had them too; dreams filled with the anguish of the past and fears buried by daylight that reawakened in quiet of the night. Then it would be she who held him tightly and it was both a blessing and a curse that it was all that either could offer.

            “Did I wake anyone?” Sigrid asked croakily.

            Fíli tilted his head, but not a sound reached his ears. “No, everything’s all right. Sleep. I’m right here with you, my love. Just sleep.”

 

They stayed like that for quite some time, dozing until the morning came around and the Mountain began to stir.

 

->>>―――――‒>

 

            “Listen.” Fíli breathed some time later. “Can you hear it?” he whispered, pulling a stray curl back from the now peaceful face of his wife as she lay sleeping in his arms.

            Sigrid’s eyelashes fluttered but stayed closed, the corners of her mouth lifting softly. “I can hear it.” came her sleep laced reply.

It was one of the things they still did together; listening to the gentle rhythms and vibrations of the earth waking from its slumber. A ritual they had clung to in the wake of so many changes in the past ten years.

            “If we lay here, just you and me, do you think we could stay here and just forget about the rest of the world?” Sigrid mumbled, pulling the blankets and furs closer around them.

            Fíli chuckled. “We could try, but I don’t think the rest of the world would let us forget.” And there was something hidden within his voice, something imperceptible to all but those who knew his nature best.

Sigrid opened her eyes to look at her husband. Fíli was watching the canopy above, deep lines pinched between his eyebrows. She knew what was troubling him, all of Erebor had been whispering about it, speculating.

            Sigrid rolled so that her hands were folded upon his bare chest, her chin resting atop them. “Do you want to talk about it?”

            Fíli drew a heavy breath. “Thorin says it will be soon; that when Durin’s day next falls he will formally abdicate and pass the throne to me. Sigrid, all my life I have known it was coming but now, now it’s here and I-I don’t think I can do it.”

            Sigrid reached up a finger to trace the lines that marred his face, working her fingers in circles until she felt the tension beneath ease and saying as she did; “There is no comfort in trying to escape this, my love. What’s coming will catch up to you, but we will greet it together when it does.” She cupped his check in her hand, turning his head so that it looked at her. “Believe me when I say that I know you will be a truly great King to our people.”

            “Thank you, my love, my hope.” Fíli smiled softly, taking her hand and pressing it to his lips. “But how can I protect and provide for our people when I can’t convince the council to cooperate and amend the provisions of the Peace Treaty? I want to be able to prove to Thorin that I can be the King he deserves; the King you believe I can be, but if I fail at this…”

            Sigrid frowned. “But they do see you as a King; Thorin, my Father, our family, and all our people. You have spent the past ten years proving it to them time and time again. They will not forget it over one moment of difficulty.”

            “But still-” Fíli made to protest but Sigrid cut him off.

            “If there is anything I have learnt these past years it is that politics is a battlefield with words for weapons. You are one of the best warriors I have ever seen but it’s not because you despise your enemy; you fight because you love what you are protecting. That is what makes you a worthy King and speaks far louder than any political achievement ever could.”

Fíli nodded contemplatively, he could see the wisdom in her words and it warmed his heart to know that in her eyes he could be all that he aspired to.

            “And besides,” Sigrid added, a mischievous twinkle sparking in her eyes. “If Thranduil insists on obstructing council negotiations then I will just have to bring along a bow and arrow and make him see our point.”

            Fíli raised an eyebrow and smirked, momentarily forgetting his troubles at the image. “Diplomacy has never been your greatest strength.”

            Sigrid scoffed, pretending to be affronted at the repetition of his words from that night at the Lake. “Remind me again, who was it that convinced your uncle and my father that we should break a tradition that spans back as far as the ages and marry a Princess of Dale to a Prince of Erebor?”

            “You did, my love.” Fíli pressed a kiss to her forehead.

            “And who told Thorin to allow the midwives of Dale to come the Mountain and share their knowledge, and then convinced him that it had been his idea in the first place?”

            “You did, my love.” Fíli pressed a kiss to her lips before drawing away, his eyebrows furrowed. “I’ll never understand how you managed that.”

            “Well, it’s like your mother always says to Tauriel and I; you males may be the head of the family and of this kingdom, but we females are the neck, and we can turn the neck any way we want.”

            Fíli huffed, crossing his arms as the braids in his moustache lifted. “And here I was thinking that we were in this together.”

            “Oh we are, my love.” Sigrid lifted herself so that her head hovered above his, pressing a tender kiss to the corner of his downturned mouth before pulling away, leaving his lips to search for hers. “But like I said; you’re the head and I’m the neck.”

            Fíli placed one of his hands at her back, pulling her closer as if to claim his kiss, but at the last second used it to flip her so that his face was now above hers. Sigrid cried out in surprise, laughing at her husband. “Lucky me to love such a clever woman, but I might have to change your mind about this head-neck arrangement.” He purred, pressing kisses along her collar bone, following the line of her throat towards her mouth. Sigrid arched her neck and closed her eyes, laughing at the way the thick hair of his beard tickled her as it brushed against her skin. His lips found hers and pulled her in.

            “Quiet or we'll wake everyone.” She murmured breathlessly between kisses.

            Fíli paused in his conquest of her mouth, his ears catching at a sound beyond their doors. “I think we’re too late for that.” He sighed, throwing himself down on the bed besides his wife and lifting the sheets over both their heads. “Remember what I said about the rest of the world not forgetting about us?”

 

As he said it the heavy double doors to their chamber burst open and two small figures pelted into the room, catapulting themselves onto their parent’s bed and gleefully throwing back the sheets.

            “Come on, come on. It’s time to get up!” said the first child, a boy both broader and shorter than a human child, with a mane of charcoal hair already brushing his shoulders and the faintest hint of beard on his chin.

            “You can’t sleep all day.” Moaned the other boy, a replica of his brother down to the spark in his grey eyes but with a mane of golden hair instead.

            “And why is that, my lamb?” Sigrid asked, sitting up and catching her golden haired son in her arms while Fíli trapped his laughing brother and pretended to throw him up into the air.

            The boy looked at his mother in horror. “How could you call me a lamb?” He said, affronted. “I’m a lion, just like Da, can’t you see?” and he proceeded to puff out his chest and roar.

            Sigrid laughed and pressed a finger to her son’s lips. “Hush Frerin, my lion; you’ll wake those still sleeping.”

Frerin huffed impatiently, casting a glance across the chamber before wriggling out of his mother’s arms so that he could stand on the bed and survey the room, looking around for his next adventure.

            “And what are you two planning on getting up to today?” Fíli asked, setting his chortling raven-haired son, Durin, upright next to his brother. “Mister Dwalin had better not catch you in the armoury without permission, again." He said it sternly but there was an impish glint in his eye at the memory of himself and his own brother getting caught up in similar antics when they were that age.

            “I think,” Sigrid said, turning to give her husband a knowing glare. “That what your father meant to say was that you two had better not be in the armoury without permission at all, let alone getting caught. Isn’t that right?”

The three males nodded soberly under Sigrid’s stern gaze before her sons turned to whisper into their father’s ear. Fíli’s eyebrows shot up as he listened and Sigrid sighed, folding her arms expectantly.

            Fíli considered carefully how to phrase his son's question, ultimately opting to phase it as it had been asked; there was no use in trying to pretend it hadn't been said. He swallowed. “They want to know how come your Da let you shoot a bow and arrow when you were their age but they can’t?”

            Sigrid narrowed her eyes. “And who told them that?”

            The boys each whispered into one of Fíli’s ears again.  Fíli nodded and straightened up. “They said that your Da told them himself, and that Uncle Kíli said he once challenged you to a shooting contest and that even though he was faster, you got closer to the target from further away.” He reported, the corners of his mouth twitching.

            “I’ll show him just how accurate my aim is.” Sigrid muttered under her breath, causing her sons to giggling. But a panic had risen in her like bile.

Fíli sensing Sigrid’s distress turned to his sons. He had always known Sigrid would struggle to reconcile herself with her sons' reverence for the tales of warriors and battle they were surrounded with, especially after Tilda's death. He himself had been born into the life of a fighter; it was expected as a Prince of Durin. But his sons were as much a part of Sigrid as they were of him and if she was not ready then he would not push it.

            “Your Mam is right. You are too young to learn to shoot a bow and arrow yet.” He watched his son’s faces fall. “Besides,” he added quickly. “Wouldn’t you rather wait until you can learn to use a sword or carry an axe instead?” he wrinkled his nose in mock distaste but his sons faces remained distraught. Fíli sighed. “Your mother and I aren’t saying that you will never get to go to the armoury, just not yet. Okay?”

            “But uncle Kíli and aunt Tauriel teach Tinúviel to shoot and sword fight every day.” Frerin said, his bottom lip quivering.

            “Yes, but cousin Tinúviel is older than both of you.” Fíli said placating.

Sigrid chewed her lip, watching the distress on her faces of her sons. She hated that it was her who was bringing them such misery. She remembered almost a year ago when Thorin had gifted the boys with ornately crafted practice swords so that they might learn to bear the weight. Fíli had seen the panicked look in her eye as their young sons eagerly took the toy weapons in their hands. Fíli had taken his uncle aside and explained in a hushed tone that they did not want their sons to take up weapons yet. But as much as Thorin had gruffly respected their wishes he told Fíli in no uncertain terms there would come a day when his sons would be ready and that he and Sigrid would have to acknowledge it whether they wanted to or not.

            Sigrid laid a hand on Fíli’s shoulder and drew in a heavy breath, looking at her sons. “My loves, I will agree to allow you both to go to the armoury under the supervision of your father and me on one condition;” she looked from one set of eager eyes to the other. “I need you to understand that your Da and I love our children more than anything else in the world; we need you to be safe. But that also means that you need to be able to defend yourselves and then one day you can defend those you love. Do you understand?”

The boys looked up at their mother, aware from her tone that what she was saying was very important. And in the way that children do, they understood, nodding their heads earnestly in unison.

            "We love you to Mam." Frerin said, reaching out to squeeze her hand in both of his.

            "More than anything." Durin added, pecking a kiss to her cheek.

Sigrid pulled them into her arms, holding them as she pressed a kiss to the top of each head.

Fíli’s hand squeezed her shoulder, knowing that it must have taken everything in her to agree to that. She never ceased to blow him away with her strength, or her selfless ability to push aside her own pain for others.

Sigrid squeezed her sons tighter to her chest, closing her eyes and wishing that the moment could go on; that they could stay in her arms forever. But eventually she relinquished them.

            “Isn’t it time you two go and find Bomber in the kitchens so you can start washing the dishes you were set as punishment?” Fíli asked softly.

The boys looked at each other and a glee sparked in their eyes that was ill suited to the punishment. Fíli knew that look all too well; he and Kíli had worn it enough times when they were young whenever they sensed an opportunity for fun.

            The boys had already scrambled from the bed and were halfway towards the door when their father’s warning voice stopped them in their tracks. “That doesn’t mean you get to spend the entire time eating.”

The boys turned back to their parents, doing their utmost to twist their faces into honest and contrite expressions.

            “Oh no, we could never spend our entire time eating.” Said Frerin, barely suppressing the smirk that pulled at his lips.

            “Just most of the time!” Durin burst out, and with that the two ran from the room, their laughter echoing down the halls as the heavy double doors swung shut behind them.

 

Fíli chuckled and shifted to face Sigrid but found that the bed beside him was empty.

Sigrid had slipped quietly from the warm covers of their bed and padded over the cold stone floor to the far side of the foot where a carven cot stood against the wall. The hem of her cream nightgown brushed against her ankles and her hair spilled messily out the braids she kept it in as she looked down at the tiny baby girl curled up in her blankets.

The baby stirred but slept peacefully on as Sigrid watched, a plump fist brushing at the soft down of blonde curls already on her head. Knowing better but needing it all the same, Sigrid reached down and ever so gently lifted her daughter into her arms, cradling her head as she did. Slowly Sigrid walked back towards the canopy bed where Fíli waited, sitting upright with his back resting against the headboard. Sigrid ever so carefully pulled herself up so that she sat between his legs, her back pressed into his chest and his chin on her shoulders as he looked down at his daughter in her arms.

            With a feather light finger Sigrid traced out constellations on her daughter's forehead, just as she had once done with her sister. "Sometimes I wish they could stay like this forever; safe and untroubled by the world. But then the rest of the time they can't grow up fast enough."

            "I wish it too, my love. I wish it too."    

He knew how she felt; so incredibly elated and yet mind-numbingly terrified, wanting to shield and protect but also needing them to be able to protect themselves.

            Fíli reached out a hand and as he did  his daughters chubby fist reached out and captured his thumb, her fingers wrapping themselves around his and holding tight, gurgling contentedly in her sleep. He remembered not two months past when she had entered the world screaming at the top of her lungs and he had held her for the first time. Then she had fitted into one hand, her fingernails the size of a grain of rice, so frail but so utterly perfect. Now she had grown and her head rested easily in his other hand as his arm wrapped around Sigrid. "I think that we play the game of love knowing that in the end we will only lose, but still we play because to have a love we fear to loose is a treasure worth enduring the pain for."

            Sigrid leant her head so that it rested against Fíli's, her eyes still captivated by Tilda, the daughter they had named for her lost sister. "Does that make it all a big sacrifice; is everything weighted in measure so that our joys are a reward for suffering, or is it that our suffering is the cost of our joy?"

            "Your guess is as good as mine, love." Fíli sighed. "I don't think we would be the same people if things had happened differently, how could we be? But I have to believe that somewhere along the way, by some other course, we would still be here. But maybe one cannot exist without the other; the joy and the pain. Just as when I am suffering you make it your purpose to remind me of our joy, and I would do the same for you."

            Sigrid smiled, lifting her chin so that her eyes met his. "There can't be one without the other."

            Fíli smiled back at her. "Today, tomorrow, and in every version of forever." He said, pressing a kiss first to her forehead, then to her nose, and at the last word his mouth met hers.

Sigrid felt her soul melt into his, letting his lips draw her home while their daughter slumbered on peacefully between them. And somewhere in the exquisite solace of the moment, the wrongs of the world seemed to fall away into insignificance nothingness.

 

Some pains never truly went away and some hurts lingered, but life went on. Mornings past into dusk and years fell into memory, but little by little and day by day the road went ever on. It wound through thickets of dense shadow and then out into clearings of dazzling light, and they faced it all side by side, united forever beyond the end of their days.